The court approved contracting with Inline Network Integration LLC, effective Dec. 1, for $48,600 annually. Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer, who proposed making the change, said the county now pays $67,000 for such services, and hiring the firm would thus save close to $20,000.
But the proposal was questioned by some county officials, who appeared concerned that, unlike Mrs. Kelley, the Dallas firm wouldn’t be able to respond quickly enough when problems arise with equipment. And Mrs. Kelley, whose assistant is her daughter-in-law Heather Steelman, told the court she had lacked money in her budget (which the court sets) to perform the services Inline was offering.
However, Spencer replied that by switching to the Dallas firm, the county would get more services for less money than now.
After the meeting, he told this newspaper, “It’s not about Karmen. It’s about moving forward.”
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner and Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden joined him in voting to hire Inline. Pct. 3 Comm.Lloyd Crabtree abstained. County Judge Dean Fowler, who normally votes only to break ties, did not vote.
At the outset of the lengthy discussion, County Treasurer Myra Harris and County Tax Assessor-Collector Sherron Laminack said nobody from Inline had visited their offices to inspect their equipment.
Brock Leger, one of two representatives of Inline attending the meeting, said his firm had run an inventory from the County Courthouse and sent a representative to several offices. Mrs. Harris said her office was the “main one.”
She said she was “defensive about it when you’re messing with” the process for doing the county’s payroll, and told the Inline representatives, “You haven’t asked us anything on this.”
When the firm had said its response time for problems could be two hours, Mrs. Harris said “When I need something done, I can’t wait two hours.”
During the discussion, Mrs. Kelley told the court she assumed the Dallas firm was “going to take mine and Heather’s job.” Fowler responded he thought that was correct.
Her voice quivering at first, Mrs. Kelley replied she had worked for the county 35 years, and that she thought she and Mrs. Steelman “do a good job. . .so I’m not understanding why you would look at outsourcing.
“It always looks good until you get into it,” she asserted. “They’re not here on-site.”
She said she had spent two- and one-half hours working in the county jail on a technology issue the prior Saturday, and that the Sheriff’s Office could not wait two hours for help to arrive.
Ms. Laminack said she had contacted Kelley twice during the recent Yamboree in Gilmer for help.
Leger told the court, “We will have staff on site.”
Spencer told Mrs. Kelley, “We need to move forward with our technology. . .They say they can do it for less money, so why can’t you?”
Mrs. Kelley’s former husband, county Fire Marshal and Emergency Services Manager Paul Steelman, said Mrs. Kelley and his daughter-in-law “are a very important part of the emergency services center for this county.” He said he didn’t have to wait two hours for their help.
Responded Leger, “We do work 24 hours a day.”
The other representative from Inline, Stan McNiel, said taking as long as two hours was “not a typical response” time for his firm, but the maximum instead.
“Our response time is far less than two hours,” McNiel said. “We make things better over time. . .We do not have to be on-site to resolve every issue.”
He said Inline had someone who lives in this area who would be close by.
Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Lyle Potter said his office can’t wait even 10 minutes to resolve some technology problems. He asked whether Mrs. Kelley and Mrs. Steelman had had an opportunity to go to work for Incline, or whether the county was just “kicking” them out.
Potter said the women “need to be given a chance” to work for the company.
Spencer, reacting strongly to Potter, said “I put this on the agenda,” and “Everybody out there is jumping to conclusions.”
Spencer indicated he thought it was being implied that the court had already decided to hire the men.
When Potter said the court needed to study the matter further, Spencer told him this was his opportunity to discuss the issue.
At one point, Spencer uncharacteristically raised his voice and said that if someone didn’t want the county to go forward on the issue of technology, “Don’t vote for me.”
Tax Assessor-Collector Laminack told the court, “I’m concerned about the time response when I need help.” She said she called Mrs. Kelley 3-4 times weekly and appreciated her “personal help.”
“Karmen had really no idea what was going on” in the situation involving the possible hiring of the Dallas firm, Mrs. Laminack said.
Spencer replied he had talked to Mrs. Kelley about making the change, but Mrs. Kelley replied, “Nobody’s come to me to ask me what my office does.”
She said she spent one morning with representatives of Incline.
Leger responded that his firm understood what Mrs. Kelley does, and that using Inline “saves you guys money.” He also said that historically, the prices on the firm’s contracts have decreased.
But Mrs. Kelley protested “there’s no way” Inline can determine “what we do in one morning. . . They should have spent more time with me to get more information for that report (they made).”
Said Leger, “We spent three full days here on-site.”
“Just highlight a few of the problems y’all found,” Spencer told Leger and McNiel.
Leger said they included “unsecure protocol,” adding “your payroll system can be compromised.” He said it has “antiquated, older technology.”
Mrs. Kelley replied that equipment was in a “secure office,” and that she hadn’t had the money in her budget to upgrade.
Leger said his firm could tighten security, and that the county’s computer server was “hanging out on the Internet” for people “to try to log into.”
He said the firm also found no network alarms, and that certain “traffic” is “not isolated from the network,” allowing people to listen in on conversations.
“There’s no security,” Leger said.
“We’ve never been hacked,” Mrs. Kelley responded. When Comm. Crabtree disagreed with that, she said, “But an outsider didn’t do it.”
The Incline representatives said they could overhear and record phone conversations from the county government.
Crabtree asked Fowler to set a closed session of the court to discuss security. Fowler left the meeting for a few minutes to research whether the court could legally do that.
After the judge returned, Crittenden revealed to the court that he had had a computer technician come in his office in the last 9-12 months and that the technician told him, “I’m amazed at how vulnerable your system is up here.”
“I’ve got a concern,” Crittenden said.
After the court recessed for 12 minutes, Mrs. Kelley said the county would only save $15,000 to $18,000 annually by replacing her and Mrs. Steelman with Incline.
Spencer replied the court would receive more services for less money.
“I haven’t had the money (in the budget to do more),” Mrs. Kelley responded.
“They’re (Incline) not offering anything other than a little more security and stuff,” she argued. “I was always told over the years, ‘Don’t fix it until you have to.’”
She also pointed out that her office does identification cards for the Sheriff’s Office.
Crittenden asked the Incline representatives if there was anything she did they couldn’t do. McNiel said he didn’t know what all she did.
When she brought up that she sends information to the Criminal Justice Information System, McNiel acknowledged his firm could not do that.
As the court neared a vote on the issue, Fowler said it could vote to contract with Incline, but could take no action on doing anything with the current Information Technology Office because of the way the item was worded on the agenda.
After the vote, Mrs. Kelley told the court, “I’ve always been proud of the job I did for Upshur County,” and she said the court’s decision is “not going to be the best for the county.”