GARDINER — Not long after the Gardiner City Council adopted without comment the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, councilors were considering a request for spending that was not included in the $6 million spending plan.

Gardiner police Chief James Toman asked elected officials for money to buy a new radio system for the Police Department to address the gap in radio coverage in Gardiner’s historic downtown neighborhood, including the Gardiner City Hall, where the police offices are.

“We have a significant hole in our communications system,” he said. ” We have been addressing the hole. It is a known dead spot for us. What we have done is try to utilize work-arounds to the best of our ability to minimize the cost to the city and to the taxpayers.”

That has included seeking grants to fund a new radio system in part or in whole, but those applications have been unsuccessful.

“I am here to present to you the need to have some enhanced equipment for the Police Department so that when we press our button to talk on our portable radio, be in this station, be it in Two Gramps, be it in Gerard’s, be it at the waterfront, be it in Hannaford or wherever we are in Gardiner or South Gardiner, that when we press that button, dispatch or a fellow officer can hear.

Toman showed a video clip detailing an incident from June 7, when a suspect charged with disorderly conduct in a booking room at the police station attempted to bring his handcuffed hands in front of his body. As Officer Allen Alexander stopped him and tried to return the suspect to his chair, a scuffle broke out, landing both of them on the floor. The video shows Alexander’s attempts to call for help, using the shoulder mic of his portable radio; and when that failed, using his Apple watch to voice-call dispatch, all while trying to keep the struggling suspect pinned to the floor. The entire incident lasted seven minutes; Toman showed about three minutes.

Toman said the struggle lasted until Sgt. Todd Pilsbury returned to the police station and helped contain the suspect.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.  “We can’t take any more chances. We can’t have any more liability.”

While the city’s new radio tower on Libby Hill, which was acquired from the Federal Aviation Administration, has improved radio reception across Gardiner and the region, it has not eliminated the dead spot in downtown Gardiner. Toman said he brought the proposal to the City Council on Wednesday because nothing as serious as that fight had happened before. If it had, he said, he already would have made the request.

Until now, he said, he has tried to do more with less and run a tight budget, and he thought the work-arounds would continue to carry the department through another year.

Toman’s request also included waiving the normal bidding process and awarding the work to Radio Communications Management, the company that had completed work on the Libby Hill tower.

Councilors questioned Toman on the timing of the request, coming at the end of the budget deliberations, and on why a project costing this much would not be put out to bid.

“I don’t want to be reactionary because someone stubbed their toe,” District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said. He questioned whether those who have been arrested should be brought in by one police officer only.

Toman said he asked for the bid requirement to be waived because the department needs the radios now and the bid process could delay the purchase for a number of weeks.

“I would prefer to stop the liability, because in this incident, we were lucky. Next time, we might not be so lucky,” Toman said. “I say our luck has run out.”

City Manager Christine Landes, who recommended the purchase, said the City Council is expected to meet once in July and once in August, and the bid might not be awarded until September.

Anne Davis, who is both the director of the Gardiner Public Library and the city’s technology director, said in this case, she recommended against bidding, because that might drive the price up.

“I know this is unusual,” Davis said, “but I do technology and I do know vendors. Nobody likes the past person’s work. In the end, your bids will be much higher and you’ll settle on the folks that already know the system.”

The City Council voted to approve the purchase, 7-0-1, with Berry abstaining.

“I am one of the the first ones to say we have to sharpen our pencils,” At-large Councilor Tim Cusick said, “but in cases like this, if you have a serious need, you need to bring that to us. There are other things to cut, if need be. We don’t want any city employee to be hurt.”

 

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