Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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County scraps plan for no-bid contract for body scanner at jail

As recently as a week ago, the local sheriff’s office was on the verge of acquiring a sophisticated new scanner that would’ve supplanted the need for body cavity searches of suspects who are about to be booked into Alamance County’s jail.

In fact, last week’s edition of The Alamance News featured a notice about a public hearing that the county’s board of commissioners had scheduled for August 15 in order to allow the sheriff to buy this machine from an out-of-state vendor without having to go through the state’s competitive bid process.

But the imperative to look ever deeper, which had inspired the sheriff to pursue this technology in the first place, also seems to have foiled his plans to obtain the equipment – at least for the moment.

According to the county’s purchasing director Randy Clark, the commissioners were all set to hear this request when Clark spotted a potential snag in the North Carolina state statute which allows local governments to enter into no-bid contracts.

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“I just realized this yesterday,” Clark acknowledged in an interview Wednesday, “that the contract has to be bid within 12 months under our North Carolina statute and the one we were trying to use was from 2020.”

Clark went on to explain that, in order to acquire the new scanner at a reasonable price, he had intended to piggyback on a standing contract that the state of New York has to purchase machines made by a British manufacturer called Smiths Detection. This arrangement, had it proved viable, would’ve allowed the sheriff’s office to acquire the new scanner within the county’s budget of $130,000 to $140,000.

Although Clark said that he managed to cross all the regulatory hurdles needed to put in with the state of New York, it wasn’t until after the aforementioned notice appeared in this newspaper that he realized the Empire State’s contract predated North Carolina’s statutory threshold for a no-bid equipment purchase.

“When I noticed this, I went to legal,” the county’s purchasing director added, “and they said that if the contract wasn’t bid within 12 months, you can’t seek an exemption. So, right now, we’re back to square one.”

Clark said that he now plans to explore some of the other options that the sheriff may have to acquire the desired equipment as expediently as possible. But he conceded that it may ultimately be unfeasible to purchase the gadget without having to go through the intricacies of the state’s competitive bid process.

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