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After Lee County Board Delays Purchase of Generators, Power Outage Knocks Out Phone Lines

A power outage at the south Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk led to the non-emergency phone lines at the sheriff's office going down. It's the second time a power outage has done that.

A power outage affecting several thousand customers in and around Keokuk Wednesday night also knocked out the non-emergency phone lines for the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The outage took place the day after the county board chose to delay the purchase of back-up generators to protect those phone lines.

The sheriff’s office is connected to the county’s phone system, which allows departments to make local phone calls between Keokuk and Fort Madison. It utilizes the county's computer network.

So if the computer network is offline as the result of a power outage, the sheriff’s office’s non-emergency phone lines go down. These lines are also used for medical alert devices and security systems.


County Auditor Denise Fraise said a power outage in early June at the North Lee County Office Building revealed the vulnerability as the power supplies for the computer network is housed in two locations: the office building and the South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk.

Fraise said the maintenance department, which she also heads, requested an emergency bid from Mohrfeld Electric to install a back-up generator to protect the phone lines in each building after the power outage in Fort Madison. She presented the roughly $23,500 bid to the county board during its June 19 meeting.

Fraise said it was not a requirement to do so because county policy does not require seeking multiple bids in an emergency. But Supervisor Gary Folluo said during the meeting that he would prefer to see the project put out for bid and the rest of the board agreed.  Supervisors asked the maintenance department to seek additional bids and bring them to the board during its weekly meeting on June 26.

Fraise said several other firms were contacted and only one, Frank Millard & Co., submitted a bid of just under $20,000. It arrived an hour before the county board meeting on June 26.

Fraise said the initial bidder was not contacted about submitting a new bid.

Questions were raised during the meeting as to whether the bid process was fair because Mohrfeld’s original bid had already been published in the newspaper the previous week.

Folluo and Supervisor Matt Pflug recommended accepting the low bid anyway and installing the generators. But they were outvoted by Rick Larkin, Ron Fedler and Chairman Don Hunold.

Hunold said he did not believe it was fair for the bids to be compared given they came at different times.

“As far as I’m concerned, stop the process,” said Hunold. “Re-bid it… sharpen your pencils if you wish and if not, submit those bids in a week and we will go on with it. I don’t think it’s fair since somebody already had that number.”

The board instead chose to accept bids for the generators from all interested parties until July 6, with the board awarding the contract on July 10.


Roughly 30 hours after the board voted to delay the installation of the back-up generators, a major power outage struck Keokuk, affecting several thousand customers.

Among the affected buildings was the south Lee County Courthouse -- and that knocked out the non-emergency phone lines at the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Stacy Weber said the phone lines were down for about two hours.

He said he drove his personal generator to the courthouse to try to get the phone lines up quicker. But he said just a couple minutes after he and the maintenance department got the generator installed, the power returned.

Auditor Denise Fraise said the latest outage showed the addition of the generators was an emergency and the work should have been allowed to be completed several weeks ago. She said someone could have been seriously injured and the county could have been held liable.

Chairman Don Hunold said while he was scared of what could have happened with the phone lines down, he felt the county board made the right decision in restarting the bid process. He does not expect any change to the plan of awarding the contract for the generators on July 10.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.