The Upshur County Commmissioners Court, at its mid-month regular meeting Thursday, tabled action on its controversial decision to do away with the county’s Information Technologies Department and outsource IT services.
Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden chaired the meeting, in the absence of Judge Dean Fowler, who was away at school.
The tabling came after critics of the move, during public comments, pointed out that the county did not have a written contract with the outside provider, Inline Integration Network of Longview.
Commissioners had voted 3-0, with Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree abstaining, at their Oct. 31 meeting to outsource IT work to purportedly save the county about $20,000 annually.
Several people addressed the court, criticizing the decision. No one from the public spoke at the meeting in favor of the move, which would terminate 35-year county employee Karmen Kelley, head of the department, and her assistant, Heather Steelman. Mrs. Steelman, who has worked for the county for five years, is Mrs. Kelley’s daughter-in-law.
Former Upshur County Auditor Keith Barber, who was later County Auditor at Cass and Nacogdoches Counties, was sharply critical of the decision.
He termed the outsourcing action as “a vulgar act of politics. It’s lowly, heartless, cruel, disrespectful of public dignity and public character. It is a vile example of intimidation and undeniable cowardice.”
He said that he had hired Mrs. Kelley when she was just out of high school 35 years ago, and that she had been a model employee.
Barber also said that the county’s computer system was developed through discussions between him and a representative of the Software Group, which up to then had no experience with serving the needs of county governments. (Software Group is now known as Tyler Technologies.)
He cited his experience with the county’s computer operations with giving him knowledge about it.
Holding aloft a yellow legal pad, Barber said that software which still serves Upshur and other counties was conceived on a yellow pad in his office between him and the Software Group.
“My remarks were not meant to be accusations but simple questions concerning basic county law, professional due diligence, vendor capacity and unsubstantiated claims,” Barber said. “Too many questions that the members of the court were visibly rattled about and could not offer any conclusive or reasonable answers. A fast retreat soon followed.”
He asked, “With all the other problems facing the county in general and the computer operations specifically why is this court so fixated and possessed to change the only thing that is working and is the absolutely most qualified to meet the future issues?”
He said that his “primary concerns are how the issue has been handled, and the sudden animosity toward an impeccable 35-year employee,” which he termed “very, very curious.”
He said commissioners “admitted they approved contract before they got it (and still don’t have) the final contract. It could be somewhat misleading to everyone that the deal was already done.”
Barber claimed that there are “lots of questions, not many answers.”
He said the county’s computer hardware “is functional, but the county has known for years that software maintenance will end in two years.” He said the proposed contract “only covers hardware, so the software problem is being ignored to just swap inhouse IT to contract IT. There will be no one in county to do software maintenance.”
He said that “those charges could be in the thousands, and when the old system shuts down, the whole county’s operation will come to absolute chaos: No financial system, no way to record transactions, no way to accept funds, no way to pay bills, no payroll, no law enforcement records, no court records.”
Barber warned that “the county could functionally if not physically implode. Not crying wolf, this is possible and likely probable, if constructive actions are not taken now.”
“A system could be in the $500,000 range and no one is concerned about it,” Barber said.
He likened outsourcing IT services in such circumstance to “having a rusty, nonworking pickup truck, and rotating the tires on the truck.”
Barber asked why “Commissioners are unilaterally promoting changes and not asking or taking any input from IT or any other elected officials on how it would affect their work?”
He also questioned whether the vendor’s contract price of $48,600, was just short of the $50,000 minimum open-bid statutes to circumvent the statute. Barber said that “any additional payments to same vendor exceeding $50,000 will trigger the bid law. Without knowing what is covered by contract, ‘other services’ could be in the thousands.”
Mrs. Steelman asked the court why, if money was the issue, why didn’t they terminate her and “keep Karmen and save $25,000, versus outsourcing the whole department and really screwing up everything?”
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said that money was not the sole issue. He said that “we want to take our IT Department to the next level.”
He said that it was a “business decision,” in the interest of the county’s taxpayers.
Clint Steelman, Heather’s husband and Mrs. Kelley’s son, said that she “has 35 years of knowledge to run the IT department. She built it from the ground up.”
Some had said that the action was saying to county employees that loyalty and longevity didn’t matter.
Crittenden said later that the IT Department reports directly to the court, and they couldn’t order another department not under their direct line of command to hire Mrs. Kelley when the IT Department is outsourced.