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County software controversy

May 04, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County government "damaged public trust" when the County Commissioners - acting on incomplete information from the county staff - selected a $2.8 million computer software package April 20 that cost nearly $1 million more than a competing proposal, two commissioners said Tuesday.

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After hearing the reasoning for a committee's recommendation of a higher bid, though, the commissioners decided by consensus to stick with their earlier decision. Members of a committee examining the bids said they had concerns about the company making the cheaper bid.

A request by Commissioners William J. Wivell and Paul L. Swartz to delay a decision Tuesday was not acted on.

Purchasing Agent Karen Luther began her presentation by saying, "On behalf of the committee we'd like to apologize for the presentation we made." Committee members included County Administrator Rodney Shoop, Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis and Budget and Finance Director Debbie Bastian.

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By a 4-1 vote the commissioners decided April 20 to pay $2.8 million for a package from Carrera Consulting Group of Sacramento and PeopleSoft USA of Atlanta to buy and implement new financial systems, including payroll, that are Year 2000-compliant.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly voted against the purchase because he wanted to hear the costs of the six other proposals.

Upon hearing last week that a software package proposal by SAP/IMG of Washington, D.C. was $968,000 less, Wivell and Swartz said they regretted not voting with Schnebly.

"We were hasty in our decision. We made a mistake there. We damaged public trust," Schnebly said Tuesday. Swartz made similar remarks.

Earlier at the meeting, Paul Muldowney, a former state delegate and Hagerstown businessman, said information about other proposals should not have been withheld from the commissioners.

"I, for one, don't want my money spent that way," he said.

Minutes of an April 14 committee meeting show that it was Mike Madden, a paid county consultant with Government Finance Officers of America, who suggested not giving the commissioners a financial comparison. The committee then decided to make that a committee recommendation, Luther said.

While PeopleSoft's proposal is $968,672 more expensive than SAP/IMG, it also gives the county 4,549 more hours for training and implementation.

Committee reports said that written comments by SAP were not clear about whether the software package could be implemented and operating by Jan. 1, 2000, when some computer hardware and software are expected to encounter problems known as the Y2K bug.

Those two issues are far more important than the differences in cost between the two vendors, Madden told the County Commissioners.

Representatives of the two companies attended Tuesday's meeting but Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said it is customary not to allow competing vendors to speak at a meeting.

After the meeting John O'Neil, senior vice president of IMG, said the company stated in written communication that it was concerned about the short time frame and indicated a desire to get started on the project. The company would have been able to meet any deadlines, though, he said.

The contract is for software, hardware and training. The software will automate some procedures, such as routine purchasing, that are now done by hand. The county is set to start using the software in June.

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