Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday gave final approval to executing a contract with a Dallas/Longview firm to provide internet technology services to the county, but will wait until a special meeting Tuesday (see separate story) to decide what to do with the county’s two IT employees.
The court contracted with Inline Network Integration for $48,600 effective Saturday, Dec. 1. Commissioners had already tentatively approved the deal.
Still to be determined is what happens to the county’s longtime information technology (IT) manager, Karmen Kelley, and her assistant, her daughter-in-law, Heather Steelman.
County Judge Dean Fowler told Mrs. Kelley, who has worked for the county 35 years, at a recent meeting that he believed the two women would lose their jobs under the change, which has stirred controversy.
However, Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer, who led the effort to hire the firm as a cost-saving measure, said during Friday’s meeting that he believed the county has a place of employment in a “dual role” for someone in the IT department if they agree to it. He did not elaborate.
At Spencer’s request, the court will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the matter of IT personnel, and the vacancy in the building maintenance supervisor position created when the court fired veteran county employee Charles Daniels Nov. 19.
At Friday’s meeting, former County Auditor Keith Barber raised questions, as he had at a previous meeting, about Inline. He asked whether the firm would live up to its contract if the information it gave on its references wasn’t accurate.
He also said the firm’s bid of $48,600 is only $1,400 below the state minimum amount required for competitive bids. When a bid is approved to “circumvent” the bidding law, it is a “criminal action,” Barber warned.
He also said that the contract sets out that any work done outside its scope would cost the county $85 per hour, and that the county would only be buying 16 hours of service in the next year. “Is that reasonable?” he asked.
Barber said the firm contends it can do the job in 83 percent less time than the two current IT workers.
He also said the court spoke of saving $20,000 by using the firm, which he pointed out was a tiny percentage of the county’s $11 million budget.
So the change saved “six whole hours of this budget. Heck of a deal,” Barber said sarcastically.
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said the savings were “close to $35,000 when you factor in health insurance.” He also said he checked numerous references on Inline, including the Longview Economic Development office, a large Dallas firm, and a bank at two locations, but no counties.
Barber again spoke, praising Mrs. Kelley’s “character” and “faith” (she formerly worked for him when he was auditor).
When Hefner interrupted, Barber angrily told the commissioner it was his (Barber’s) time to speak and that Hefner could comment later.
Fowler told Hefner to let Barber talk, but also told Barber, “be respectful.” When Barber said he was being respectful, Hefner said, “No, you’re not.”
After Barber finished, Hefner said hiring the firm “was nothing against Karmen.”
From the audience, she asked, “Then why didn’t you come talk to me?”
Fowler then declared he would not allow a “back-and-forth” discussion, and the court moved on to other matters.
Mrs. Kelley recently asked that The Mirror publish that Mrs. Steelman was not yet her daughter-in-law, nor engaged to Mrs. Kelley’s son, when Mrs. Kelley hired her as her assistant.