Tarrant County commissioners gave another spanking to the county’s information technology (IT) program this week and then refused to award a $3.4 million contract to EMC Corp., the outfit that currently develops and supports the county’s digital information storage. Last year, IT staffers encouraged commissioners to approve the latest bid by EMC to continue doing that job. Commissioners, however, objected that the request for proposal might have been written in such a way to give EMC an unfair advantage. So the county established a diverse evaluation committee that includes employees from various county departments.
That committee also recommended awarding the contract to EMC.
“This was a clean process,” purchasing agent Jack Beacham said.
But representatives from two other software companies objected, saying the evaluation committee hadn’t allowed them to give individual presentations of their bids. County IT staff said they had thoroughly researched the bids and didn’t need to hear the verbal sales pitches. Several commissioners expressed surprise.
“I just find it bizarre that you don’t talk to vendors,” Commissioner Gary Fickes said, and he wondered out loud if the bidding process needs improving.
Commissioner Roy Brooks had heard enough. A member of the county’s IT steering committee, he said the evaluation committee did an excellent job of screening bids. His eyes grew steely and his voice took on a preacher-in-a-pulpit tone as he squared off against his peers. “We have been as transparent as we can be,” he said. “I feel for our staff who have gone through this process and at the least are being accused of misfeasance.”
The other four commissioners didn’t budge. They said the high cost of digital storage (about $1 million a year) means that keen oversight and due diligence are essential to protect taxpayers.
The county employees backing EMC didn’t look too thrilled.
“You look like you’re dying to say something,” County Judge B. Glen Whitley said to County Administrator G.K. Maenius, sitting in his familiar seat near the dais.
“I may be dying, but not to say something,” Maenius said with a rueful chuckle, before assuring commissioners that bids would be re-evaluated and vendors would be allowed to give pitches.
Reporter Andrew McLemore is only a few years into his journalism career, but he’s getting started with a bang. A $10,000 bang, as a matter of fact. McLemore, who recently joined the lofty ranks of Weekly scribes, on Wednesday won a Livingston Award, which brings with it that nice $10K check, the largest all-media general-reporting prize in the country. He was recognized for a series of stories he did for his former employer, The Williamson County Sun, which showed how the withholding of evidence by prosecutors led to a wrongful murder conviction against Michael Morton, who was cleared — after 25 years in prison — by DNA evidence. McLemore noted that his stories weren’t about showing Morton’s innocence — “that was already clear” — but about tracing how the justice system had failed as “the result of arrogance and fear.”
Static was nearby when McLemore got the call about the award and thus saw a great example of someone’s jaw actually dropping. Almost as cool as the award itself, though, was the company McLemore joined. No, not the Weekly’s ranks — that’s simply beyond cool — but the list of former Livingston winners, which includes Thomas Friedman and Christiane Amanpour, and the names of those handing out the awards — Ken Auletta of The New Yorker, Anna Quindlen of Newsweek. You know — folks who have never had cocktails with Static. But hey, come on down.