CenturyLink says it will appeal a $2.35 million "no-bid" contract Beaufort County awarded to Hargray Communications this week to build and maintain a next-generation E-911 network.
Walt Burnside, CenturyLink's regional sales manager, said his company was never told about the job or asked to submit a proposal. He said the company only learned of the plans after reading a newspaper article about the county's planned E-911 upgrades.
"The county says we did not meet the technical requirements to provide a quote; however, we were never asked to give a quote," Burnside said Wednesday. "We were never asked to participate in designing this or if we were able to provide this type of service."
The E-911 upgrades would allow residents to seek emergency help using text messages and videos , in addition to phone calls. Funding for the system will come from a state fund of 911 surcharges on phone bills, not directly from county taxpayers.
County Council on Monday voted 9-1, with one abstention, to award the 10-year contract to Hargray. Terms call for Hargray to build the secure fiber-optic network and lease it to the county for $19,575 a month. Over 10 years, the contract comes to $2.35 million.
CenturyLink told County Council it could do the job for $17,000 a month, saving $309,000 over the life of the contract. At the time, Burnside hinted that potential problems with CenturyLink's proposal or service have been resolved and new management hired.
County officials used "sole-source" procurement for the contract -- meaning the job was not opened to bidders. State law allows such contracts when officials determine only one company can meet the myriad contract requirements for quality, security and other factors.
It's not clear why the method was used in this case. However, Burnside acknowledged the company had discussions with county officials about its proposal long before Monday's meeting.
At least two county councilmen also had questions about the deal.
Councilman Gerald Dawson, who voted against awarding the contract to Hargray, sought clarification about the price difference, but county attorney Josh Gruber said those details could not be discussed in public, only in closed session.
"Staff would not be bringing this forward as a recommendation if competitive bidding was available," Gruber said. "We certainly can't do that under state law."
Councilman Rick Caporale, who abstained from voting because he has worked for both companies, said both businesses should have a chance to vie for the contract.
"They are competitors, and I feel like we should let them compete and bring us the best offers they can," he said.
Should CenturyLink file an appeal, it will be reviewed by county administrator Gary Kubic. Kubic's decision can be appealed to County Council for a final vote.
Hargray declined to comment on the contract.