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Berkeley County cuts off payments to computer firm

January 29, 2001

Berkeley County cuts off payments to computer firm



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A long-simmering dispute over a new computer system at the Berkeley County Courthouse led the county commissioners to cut off payments to a Morgantown company until they are satisfied problems have been fixed.

Berkeley County Clerk John Small told the commissioners the computer system shut down three times last week and twice this week, causing problems in recording deeds and other legal documents.

"These situations create not only problems in my office, but the general public who wish to record, the paralegals who cannot do their searches and the attorneys who have to cancel or postpone their closings," he wrote the commissioners. "Needless to say, there are a lot of unhappy persons, including myself."

"I haven't seen this system work for 18 months," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart. The system was installed in county government in 1998. Burkhart voted with the other two commissioners to cut off future payments to Software Systems, Inc., until the company can prove it can make the system work for 90 days without trouble.

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Company President Michael Manley said the problems are in the courthouse, not Morgantown.

He described the problem as "not a major disaster. It's an annoyance." It is the result of the county not backing up its files, as other users of their system do, he said. .

"In Berkeley County, how do I say this delicately, you have space issues, logistical issues, people on top of each other. You've got cords all over the place, people tripping over them, computers under desks where they get warm."

The company has computer systems all over the state, and nowhere do they have the kind of problems that occur in Berkeley County, he said.

"There have been tensions from the beginning - there's never been 100 percent buy-in to the system by all county officials," he said. "What we have in Berkeley County is on the high end of problems we have anywhere else."

"Everybody wants to blame John Small, but this is not his fault," said Commissioner John Wright.

Burkhart said the county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and the system still won't work. Small estimated about 1,100 hours of employee time have been wasted because the system has not been working.

Manley said the county has two maintenance contracts of about $1,000 a month total. It has also provided training.

"It hasn't been right since they put it in here," Small said. "And the only person they have to come up here and look at it covers 32 counties. Anytime we call, it's $27.50 for each 15 minutes. And the things they said this would do we haven't been able to do.

"I've been blamed from day one because I said this thing wasn't going to work. But I've always been for computers. I was pushing for them for a long time."

The commission also voted to hire someone who can back up the files, hoping that will solve the current problem.

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