Sherry Jewkes-Larsen, a long-time county employee who is administrative assistant to Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray, made a number of remarks critical of the decision to outsource the county’s Information Technologies work in a letter to The Mirror Monday.
(Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer, who supports the move to outsource, made comments which will appear later.)
Some of Mrs. Larsen’s information about actions of Upshur County commissioners was taken from recordings of court meetings for Oct. 31 and Nov. 15, which are posted for listening on the county’s web site (countyofupshur.com).
Mrs. Larsen questioned whether outsourcing would really save the county money. “During the Oct. 31meeting, they stated they are going to save $18,400 a year by going with this company—this is the difference between the salary costs of the two current employees, less the $48,600 this company says the contract will be for the first year.
“But this is not an accurate amount,” she said. “There will be additional cost for the IDs for the Sheriff Office, someone will have to transmit our Criminal Justice Information System reports—these reports are very important to the county as a whole, if not done correctly or on time—it can affect the county and all those in the county that may be receiving or trying to receive grant money from the government —schools, cities, water supply companies and the county to list a few, many may lose money that is needed.”
She said there also would be is additional fees for telephone network repairs , “and I am sure other costs not yet realized.”
Mrs. Larsen also questioned whether the new company (it has been in business since 2005, serving “small- to medium-size” business customers,) would be able to handle the work currently being done by IT director Karmen Kelley and her assistant, Heather Steelman. (Mrs. Steelman is Mrs. Kelley’s daughter-in-law, but was not at the time she was hired. Mrs. Kelley said that Heather and her son Clint Steelman “were not even dating” at the time Heather was hired.)
Mrs. Larsen said that “Mrs. Kelley is a 35-year employee and has worked for the county since before it had a computer system and she knows every line, connection, port, printer, piece of hardware and software the county uses, owns or works with.”
She also questioned whether Inline, which is based in Dallas with an office in Longview, would be able to handle day-to-day maintenance and upkeep on the county’s system.
“Mrs. Kelley has lived in Upshur County her whole life and her sole job is to take care of Upshur County,” Mrs. Larsem said. “So it stands to reason that we will not receive the same level of service from Inline that we have received from Mrs. Kelley all these years.”
She said that Inline had stated that they would let computers’ manufacturers handle warranty work, while providing “loaner” computers to the county. She said that Mrs. Kelley worked with a vendor in Longview which provided as good a warranty as the manufacturers, and which was nearby.
“Inline’s process will cost us more time and money in the long run,” she said. “Inline will want to rotate computers out every three years. We have about 168 computers and some are several years older than the three years, and are still in good working order because of Mrs. Kelley and her staff keeping them going, thus giving them longer life and costing the county much less.”
She also said that firing the two employees would have spin off, in that they would not have as much money to put into the local economy.
Mrs. Larsen said that she had found out that no written contract with Inline existed yet, but “In my search I found there was no such contract provided. . . . I now have to realize that Inline gave only a verbal quote for services of $48,600, with no hard and fast details of what this amount covered and in listening to the meeting it was very unclear what they could or could not do, or would or would not do.
Mrs. Larsen, acknowledging that the deal with Inline is under the $50,000 state limit to require bids, “but in this economy and for the best business practices and best interests of Upshur County, why would you not want to go out for bids — especially since this company has only been in business for seven years at most?” She said there were several local companies, some of them older than Inline, which might have bid on the business.
She said a previous decision by the County Court to change depositories, against the advice of the County Treasurer, had backfired and cost the county more.
“It has cost the County almost three times as much the first year. The last year we were with our previous bank the county spent $6,649 in bank fees, the county spent $18, 886 with our current bank for the first year, not to mention the additional costs of ordering new checks for all the counties’ different accounts. . . . This will be costing the county taxpayers every year going forward. I am sure this was not done to purposely damage the county, but by not listening to the voice of experience, that is exactly what it did and will keep doing to the county.”
Mrs. Larsen predicted a similar mishap this time.
She faulted the county for not giving Mrs. Kelley a sufficient budget to upgrade equipment, software and skills.
Pct. 4 Comm. Spencer said that “the move to change IT over to Inline is to optimize our spending of the taxpayers’ dollars, and at the same time, provide the county with many upgrades within our technology department.
“Currently, Upshur County has limited resources within our IT department,” he said. “This move will increase our resources and also save us on future purchases through inline communications.
“Many disagree that you cannot run the county like a business,” the commissioner said. “However, the county is a business, but not for profit. Our purpose is to provide the best service at the most reasonable price.”