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Firm Criticizes Oxnard's Choice of Phone System

January 22, 1992|PATRICK McCARTNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Oxnard City Council on Tuesday approved a five-year contract with General Telephone Co. of California to replace the city's current phone system despite objections from another company that public bids were not sought.

The monthly cost of General Telephone's CentraNet service is expected to be $21,959, only slightly above the $21,517 monthly charge of the present General Telephone system.

But any one of several rival phone systems could save the city $5,000 a month, a representative of a competitor said, and an independent consultant hired recently by the city of Ventura also said the CentraNet system is more expensive.

With the centralized system, 700 phone lines are to be routed through the central office of General Telephone in Oxnard.

The centralized telephone service will increase the city's efficiency at processing calls by allowing automatic call-forwarding and other features, said David Sumney, Oxnard's director of information systems.

In acquiring the new system, the city will remove the obsolete switching machine in the Oxnard public safety building that was installed 10 years ago.

Installation of the new system is to occur over a three-month period, starting at the city's new library and public safety facilities.

But before the contract was awarded, James Kerr of Fujitsu Business Communications Systems challenged the city's decision to award it without hiring an outside consultant to solicit competitive bids.

"An open bid process typically drives down the cost of communications," Kerr told the council.

He said the system recently chosen by Ventura would save that city about $1.5 million over a 10-year period compared to a centralized service such as CentraNet.

Oxnard City Manager Vern Hazen defended the city's decision to award the contract without soliciting bids. "Rather than hiring an outside consultant, we chose to use an in-house consultant," he said.

Sumney said that the city already has a relationship with General Telephone and that the company is "a member of the community."

Sumney said one benefit of the centralized system is that it will not be shut down by power outages when calls are automatically relayed through the phone company's office.

He dismissed concerns about the system's cost, saying the city will purchase the equipment at a discount by buying it through Los Angeles County government.

In a phone interview from Diamond Bar, Zoe Bushor, a partner in the COM Consultants firm that was hired by Ventura, disagreed with Sumney's contention that the CentraNet system is economical.

"Do they know how much that system costs?" Bushor asked when informed about Oxnard's choice of the CentraNet service.

Bushor compared the cost of Centrex, the PacBell centralized system that is comparable to CentraNet, to nine other systems for Ventura. She said high installation and operating costs make a centralized system more expensive.

"There's no question in my mind the city could get more for their money if they did not go for CentraNet," said Bushor, who has been a communications consultant for 20 years.

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