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In other words, Pingree sees no connection between the Tallahassee Unisys and the Broward County Unisys. "It's not this group of the company that did the business in Tallahassee," he explained. "This is a totally different section of the company with a very good record."
There is at least one connection, however: County Commission Chairwoman Lori Nance Parrish, who had to vote on the Broward-Unisys contract while battling with the Tallahassee Unisys.
"They're a terrible company," Parrish said.
Parrish is married to Circuit Judge Geoffrey D. Cohen, so in 1996 and 1997 she was covered by the state health-insurance plan administered by Unisys. During that time Unisys didn't pay the Parrish family's medical bills, which included a $314 emergency-room visit by her son, who was in a skiing accident in Brighton, Utah. The accident took place January 7, 1996, and, despite angry letters from her husband, Unisys didn't respond until late 1997 -- when the company was actively pursuing the IJIS contract.
"You don't think that's an odd coincidence," Parrish said, "that because I was going to have to vote on their contract, that after a year they finally responded to my husband's letter?" When Unisys representatives came to lobby her, "I wasn't even going to let them in the office," she recalled. "I said, 'Tell them they're a slimy company, and they're not coming in until they pay our doctor bills.' The day they came in, I was armed for bear."
In the end Unisys got the contract, after agreeing to stringent guarantees the county will get back its money if the system doesn't work. Commissioners still weren't happy, but Parrish explained the decision this way: Fixing the year-2000 problem would have cost about $10 million alone, and the county would still be stuck with old computers; so the IJIS contract made business sense. And Unisys' competitor on the project, IBM, was more expensive in its initial bid. So Parrish ended up giving Unisys the $21 million.
"I held my nose and voted for them," she said. "But they're horrible.