Check the Manual Under "Dumb"
When our elected leaders announce they really don't know what they're doing, it is a very special time, like husbands admitting they forgot an anniversary or Bill Clinton remembering an affair.
Broward County is experiencing such a time. Around the courthouse and governmental center it even has a name: "Computer Wars." Politicians, bureaucrats, and consultants are battling over $27 million of your tax money -- give or take a few million -- as county commissioners sweat in self-doubt.
"This is like trying to grab quicksand," County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman complained during one skirmish. "You can't get a firm grasp, and it changes by the second."
The Computer Wars are being fought over something called the Integrated Justice Information System (IJIS), which was supposed to bring harmony to the now-separate and outdated computer systems of the Clerk of Courts, judges, sheriff's office, state attorney, and public defender. Those computers don't communicate with each other very well; data can't be shared easily.
The proposed system was also supposed to take care of the Year 2000 problem, when old computers, programmed to read only the last two digits in a date, will interpret 2000 as 1900, wreaking havoc with all kinds of vital data.
Instead of solving these problems, IJIS has brought disharmony to county government: Computer experts argue over whether the system will work, administrators feud about inadequate reference checks and soaring costs, and county commissioners admit they may be in over their collective heads.
From her position of leadership, Commission Chairwoman Lori Nance Parrish observes, "It's very confusing."
Because this is Broward County, "Computer Wars" has a political subplot, entitled "Lockwood Unleashed! Will the Meek Clerk of Courts Finally Get His Way?"
Robert E. Lockwood is in his 22nd year as Clerk. He vows he has never ever demanded anything from county government but now insists on a specific subcontractor for his IJIS software. Top county officials -- who allegedly run the project -- call that software "critically deficient" and "unacceptable."
Each side has a battle cry. County budget director John Canada declares, "Hey, something's not right," and Bob Lockwood proclaims, "Cheapest isn't always best!"
Lockwood's office is the crucial link in IJIS. It employs 600 workers and handles more than 700,000 cases a year, including civil and criminal offenses, misdemeanors, and traffic citations. The Clerk's office is where the public goes to get copies of divorce papers or to pay tickets; the data in its computer system is used by judges, private lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies. Indeed, IJIS is being designed to handle 1200 concurrent users for the Clerk's office functions, one of the largest such computer projects in the country.
With so much at stake, both sides battle with hired guns supplied by taxpayers.
County government's IJIS adviser is the Warner Group, California-based computer management consultants who tout a national reputation as impartial evaluators. The IJIS saga began in 1996 when the county gave Warner a $150,000 contract to develop a computer plan. As with everything else with IJIS, the Warner contract has mushroomed to at least $1.45 million.
Against Warner's national expertise the Clerk of Courts has his own high-powered computer consultant: former County Commissioner Ed Kennedy of Pompano Beach.
Until now Kennedy's special expertise was considered to be losing elections. He managed to lose his 1992 reelection campaign despite being an eight-year incumbent, an event as rare in Broward as a developer protecting wetlands.
While Kennedy is a leading defeated Republican and Lockwood is a legendary Democrat, they share an appreciation for Republican wisdom. The Party was smart enough not to run a candidate against Lockwood in 1996, when he won his sixth term, and, when questions were raised about the Clerk's governmental effectiveness, Lockwood, then age 74, replied, "I'm the same age as Bob Dole."
What does all this have to do with a $27 million computer system?
Well, before serving as county commissioner, Kennedy had somewhat of a technical background: He was a lobbyist for the telephone company, Southern Bell. After winning reelection Lockwood, perhaps preparing for the 21st Century, hired Kennedy as a telecommunications consultant: He got a $10,000 contract in February 1997 to study the Clerk's telephones.
Then came IJIS. Lockwood, sensing latent expertise, pulled Kennedy from the telephones for an even greater challenge: "Project Leader to the Clerk on the IJIS."
In May Lockwood gave Kennedy a $30,000 contract that ran through September, then was extended a year for $80,000. Kennedy got another $10,000 to continue his telephone study.
Asked how being a Southern Bell lobbyist prepared him for computer consulting, Kennedy replied, "Yeah, I was Public Affairs, but, you know, the Bell System management scenario."
Kennedy explained his duties as Lockwood's IJIS leader this way: "He brought me over to bird-dog and ramrod the scenario, more so from a management perspective than a technical perspective. We surveyed and put together a battle plan."
As Lockwood's computer general, Kennedy said his first strategic decision was to find a lieutenant who knew something about computers. Through friends he recruited Brian J. Levy, a retired executive from AT&T information systems, who was living near Orlando. In May Lockwood gave Levy a contract as IJIS "technical consultant" at $75,000 a year.
So far, though, the Clerk's computer commandos have the county's $1.45 million experts on the run, Project Leader Kennedy noted with a hint of bird dog/ramrod pride. "From a political standpoint, I think it's the first time that the Clerk has exerted, not his power, but influence enough to say this is what I want, and I can't have anything less," Kennedy said. "It's probably a new look in the county."
The dawn of the Age of Lockwood came in November, after computer giants IBM and Unisys submitted formal proposals to build IJIS. IBM's plan cost about $29 million but covered only part of the system. The Unisys plan included the entire system, but cost $32 million. Because the county commission had authorized only $15 million for the entire project, those figures were a call to battle for county administrators.
A major element in the cost problem was the Clerk's IJIS software. For that, IBM proposed Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Systems & Computer Technology Corp. (SCT), which has 2500 employees and $275 million in estimated 1997 revenues. Unisys proposed Crawford Consulting, Inc., based in North Canton, Ohio, with 65 employees and $8 million in estimated revenues.
The Warner Group, the county's national consultants, made detailed evaluations of the competing software and concluded the Unisys/Crawford proposal represented "higher overall software fit for Clerk of Courts criminal and civil applications." Unisys/Crawford also was cheaper. Its total cost for the Clerk's software applications was $2.8 million; SCT's software alone was $570,000 higher, and overall IBM/SCT costs for the Clerk's applications totaled almost $7.5 million.
Nonetheless the Clerk's office "demanded" SCT, although Lockwood dislikes that word.
"I don't think you'll recall over twenty years that I ever 'demanded' anything; that's a very arbitrary word," Lockwood said, then asked his staff computer manager, Barry Lasher, whether tapes of IJIS technical meetings would show the Clerk's office demanding SCT.
"That is correct," Lasher replied.
"But not 'demanded,'" Lockwood exploded. "I don't think that word is on the tape. Let's get the tape.... If you [reporter] can't extract from [the county] who on my staff gave some kind of ultimatum, then I think you [should] disregard that rather than print a bunch of garbage."
New Times got the tape of the November 3, 1997, meeting of the IJIS technical committee. On it Lasher said the Clerk's computer experts opposed Crawford because they didn't trust the Windows NT operating system that Crawford used, because Crawford was too small to handle the Clerk's job, and because they hadn't been impressed with Crawford's on-site software demonstration.
Then Project Leader Kennedy sprang to action. "Crawford is just totally unacceptable to the Clerk," Kennedy roared. "There is absolutely no way the Clerk can take on Crawford.... We are strongly committed to SCT." Kennedy, it should be noted, did not use the word "demanded" or "ultimatum."
Representatives from the other agencies supported the Clerk's wishes anyway, favoring Unisys as prime contractor but recommending SCT for the Clerk's software. The Unisys/SCT combination was endorsed by the IJIS Selection/Negotiation Committee, composed of five justice agency decision-makers, including Lockwood, and two top county officials, budget director Canada and finance director Phil Allen.
"We caused them some pain," Kennedy said of the county. "We forced Unisys to change from Crawford to SCT, to accept the subcontractor of a rival bidder. I don't think that made people too happy."
Among the people who were not happy were county commissioners, who on November 25 balked at the $32 million price tag, rejected the original proposals of both IBM and Unisys, and told them to try again. Commissioner Scott Cowan admitted, "I had no idea this would segue from a $150,000 [Warner] contract into buying a computer system." At a subsequent meeting Cowan observed, "We don't really have a solid idea of where we want to go."
Commissioners were in for more surprises when Unisys submitted a revised proposal, this time using the Clerk's subcontractor. With SCT now clearly identified as Lockwood's choice, the cost of the Clerk's software has suddenly jumped from $2.8 million to $9.6 million; the total Unisys package has soared from $32 million to $46 million.
Back in November, Clerk's consultant Brian Levy had assured the technical committee that on SCT, "We were able to do some reference checks. It's a solid product."
Two months later the county said it had not yet received written reference checks from the Clerk on SCT's criminal-case software. County staff did its own checking and, claims budget director Canada, "We were flabbergasted."
Canada bombarded the county commission on January 20, charging that the background checks hadn't been done. "What we found was a system that, even with the prior claims of major system installations in large government locations, does not have an operational Criminal Courts function at any location."
Firing back, Clerk's consultant Levy said of Canada's attack, "It's smoke," and implied that county computer people, despite months of discussion, still don't understand the Clerk's software. "There is no 'criminal' system and 'civil' system; it's the same system.... It doesn't matter whether it's civil or criminal as long as the program can handle your business."
Why would county administrators launch such an attack? "You'll have to ask them," Levy said. "I'm just a hired gun here. I'm here to protect the Clerk," then added, "The politics here, I have not seen this before."
As Computer Wars continued last week, Unisys and county officials were negotiating over a revised $21 million proposal that delayed some IJIS elements and modified others while requiring Unisys to conduct tests to ensure that SCT's software works. Although SCT cut its costs in the latest proposal, it is still $1.3 million more than Crawford.
Roger Desjarlais, the new county administrator, cautiously backs the IJIS spending, "assuming all the parties can work as a team. If people won't make that commitment, this won't work."
A more realistic assessment came from lobbyist/politician/computer guru Ed Kennedy, who last week fumed, "I've never seen such a haphazard scenario in my life. Broward County is known as a political Bosnia. From a technological standpoint, it's also proving true.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.