Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Butler Co. officials at odds over computer bid

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County commissioners want to move forward quickly with a computer project for the criminal justice system.

        But the county prosecutor's office and the company hired to manage the project disagree over whether competitive bidding is required.

        The commissioners said Mondaythat they don't want this issue to impede the project, which has been beset by controversy and delays. The project would enable the courts, the prosecutor's office, the clerk of courts office and the sheriff's and probation departments to store and share information on computers.

        “If we're sitting here a year from now (without a new computer system in place), do you know who will get the blame?” Commissioner Mike Fox asked Mary Fleenor, senior manager for Computer Associates International Inc., of Cleveland, which is managing the project. “You. And us.”

        The common pleas courts and the probation department have selected the software program of Crawford Consulting.

        But the prosecutor's office contends that the county can't buy computer software from Crawford without advertising for competitive bids.

        The basis for this decision, Assistant Prosecutor Victoria Daiker told commissioners at a Monday meeting, is the county's 1988 purchase of computer software from Sabre Systems, which was later taken over by Crawford Consulting.

        That 1988 contract was faulty because there was no competitive bidding, Ms. Daiker said. The clerk of courts at that time signed the contract without the knowledge of the prosecutor's office.

        As a result, any later contracts made with Crawford Consulting without competitive bidding would be illegal, she said.

        But Mr. Fox said the three commissioners and an assistant prosecutor signed the 1988 contract with Saber and that it did comply with competitive bid laws.

        Ms. Fleenor said she researched the 1988 contract and believes it was legal.

        Earlier this year, Prosecutor John Holcomb had said that Clerk of Courts Cindy Carpenter may have acted improperly when she purchased a software program last year from Crawford for her department without competitive bidding.

        But the Ohio Auditor's Office and Computer Associates reviewed the case and said the purchase was legal.

        Frustrated by the delays in obtaining a new computer system, Ms. Carpenter sought and received a court order from Common Pleas Judge Michael Sage to buy the system.

        Mr. Fox said Ms. Daiker's statement Monday was the first explanation the prosecutor's office has given for its opinion that the county can't buy software from Crawford without competitive bidding.


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