Council on software issue: ‘Figure it out’

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, February 14, 2015

Some City Council members say they’ve had meetings with the city manager and her staff regarding a canceled software project the city treasurer says will cost taxpayers about $1.1 million in money spent and staff time.

The members differ in their opinions of what went wrong and how to go about fixing it, but all who spoke to the News-Herald seem to hope it can be fixed.

“I’m personally not ready to throw in the towel,” Councilman Don Goldberg said. “My nature is to push on. It’s just a programming issue, and I’d like to try to figure it out so that we haven’t thrown away all this money.”

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Earlier this month, Treasurer Ron Williams wrote to City Council members to solicit their support for his position on the project.

In 2010, the city contracted with PCI LLC for a revenue collection and billing software program.

Williams said the city has been successfully using it since 2011 for miscellaneous transactions and has done more than 78,000 transactions totaling $541 million.

But it has hit a roadblock when it comes to the city’s two largest revenue categories — real estate tax and personal property tax.

The city’s finance department says the PCI program will not interface with its general ledger program, manufactured by New World. Therefore, the city can collect money but not accurately keep track of how much it has.

Williams says there is a workaround that can be done until an interface is developed, but the city’s finance department says the PCI program is not even developing accurate reports for staff to use in entering data manually.

On Feb. 3, city Information Technology Director Ken Beam wrote in a letter to PCI LLC that the city wished to terminate its contract.

Beam says the city’s current system, manufactured by a company called BAI, needs only minor upgrades and training for newer staff members who have not yet worked on it.

Near the end of the Feb. 4 City Council meeting, Councilman Mike Duman asked City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn for information about the project, but she said she would contact council members individually, “so that you can have the facts.”

The five City Council members who responded to phone calls seeking comment said they have talked with the city manager.

“I was not pleased with the meeting,” Councilman Tim Johnson wrote in an email. “This is a management issue that should have never gotten to this point. Instead of cooperating with PCI to resolve this issue, the city manager and staff have communicated that they have lost faith in PCI and have opted to cut ties with them altogether. I’m having a hard time accepting potential litigation when PCI has expressed the desire to work with us to make this work.”

Goldberg said he wants to see the city bring PCI in again to try to make it work.

“I’m trying to stay positive,” he said. “I’m not trying to blame anyone yet on this.”

Duman said he is “still in the process of formulating an opinion based on the meeting I had with the city manager and her staff.”

But Duman noted “it is virtually impossible for the finance director to compile her figures without knowing that she’s got accurate data.”

“There needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Duman said.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said he still is trying to get a handle on the issue.

“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get a good, clear understanding about what has taken place and what it will take to get it corrected,” Bennett said.

Councilman Curtis Milteer took a hands-off approach.

“It’s a management problem,” he said. “It’s not a matter council needs to be interfering with at this time. I’m hoping they can look into the problem and move forward.”

For his part, the city treasurer said he was not invited to any of the meetings.

“I’m still at a loss as to why the decision was made to stop the project,” he said. “To pause it would be one thing, until finance worked out whatever their problems are they were concerned about, but to stop the project is just inconceivable to me.”