St. Louis spent $1.5 million for computer system it never got - KMOV.com

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St. Louis spent $1.5 million for computer system it never got

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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- $1.5 million of your tax money down the drain; that’s what some people said happened after the City of St. Louis paid for a computer system that was never received.

Investigative reporter Lauren Trager discovered this waste of money and took her questions directly to City Hall. The problem is the primary accounting software system in use at St. Louis City Hall is from the days of old.

Forty years old, in fact.

It's archaic, clunky and requires some departments to still do work on carbon paper. But through public records requests, News 4 Investigates has learned the city tried to change all that.

What happened instead, some people say, was a huge waste of your money.

“It's very unfortunate,” said Curtis Kalin who is with the group, Citizens Against Government Waste.

After News 4 combed through piles of public documents, we showed them to Kalin and his team.

Way back in 2012, the city entered into a contract for a new state-of-the-art system. But Kalin says the whole process had problems.

“The city picked the wrong company, they agreed to a flawed contract and they waited too long to fix it,” Kalin said.

He points to the fine print.

The contract stated that the company, New World, would get their money after they delivered the software program or one year after the contract was signed, whichever came first.

That means the company got paid without ever having to deliver the product.

“That’s just lunacy on its face. No city or company should ever agree to a contract that flawed,” Kalin said.

So New World got paid, but taxpayers got nothing for that money.

Three years later, New World was bought out by Tyler Technologies, also one of the initial bidders for the contract. 

Tyler got paid too, and still, nothing.

All told $1.5 million dollars was spent, and to this day there’s no new software.

“Taxpayers should demand better,” Kalin said.

News 4 wanted to talk with Comptroller Darlene Green since she signed the contract and is the city's Chief Fiscal Officer.

Initially, the office provided a statement, but News 4 persisted. Instead of Green herself, the office provided Deputy Comptroller Bev Fitzsimmons, who says she wasn't in charge of the contract process from the beginning.

“Would you consider the million and a half a waste?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager.

“No, no. not one hundred percent,” said Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says they gained some knowledge.

The contract language she says was standard at the time. News 4 asked about why it took so long to figure out things weren't working.

“There was a lot of stops and starts in it, if we hit a stumbling block we may pull back or if we got busy in the office we may pull back for a month or two,” Fitzsimmons said.

News 4 also asked whether the city should do things differently in the future.

“Hindsight is easy, obviously, you would learn, you know,” she said.

Fitzsimmons notes the city was on track to spend another million dollars with Tyler Technologies, and potentially more.

So in November 2016, four years after it was signed, they decided to terminate the contract.

"I truly believe the city made the right choice in terminating and saving the extra million dollars and we'll move the process forward and get a good product eventually," Fitzsimmons said. 

"And there wasn't a way to say, 'hey guys, you didn't give us what you promised can we have our money back?'" asked Trager.

"We looked at our options," Fitzsimmons said.  

But Kalin says it should never have gotten this far in the first place.

"It feels like they agreed to something they didn't understand and that's the unfortunate part," Kalin said.  

The city is still doing things the old way.

They have formed a committee to explore what to do next.

Tyler Technologies did not return our attempts to get a hold of them.

We wanted to talk to other city leaders on this.

Mayor Lyda Krewson declined to comment, so did President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed. Alderman Joe Vaccaro did talk to us, though. He says he's outraged. He says it was a horrible deal and a giant waste of money, something that could have been better spent on raises for police officers.

Statement from Comptroller Darlene Green: 

The Comptroller's Office undertook an effort to find new computer software to replace the city’s outdated payroll and accounting systems. The Comptroller stands behind the efforts of the hardworking city employees who tried to make accounting and payroll software replacement a reality. And the Comptroller supports the ultimate decision to move in a different direction and preserve the payroll and accounting operations of the city’s existing software system.
At the end of 2011, a competitive RFP process took place and a committee narrowed the candidates to two companies, 1) New World Technologies and 2) Tyler Technology. The working group selected New World. The working group then worked diligently for months and months with New World on the process and procedures needed to implement the software. In the meantime, Tyler Technology acquired New World, and subsequently, the city chose to
remove itself from the agreement with New World, now Tyler Technology, because Tyler could not offer the City of St. Louis an integrated financial payroll and accounting solution without charging the city additional costs. We decided not to pay more than the amount for which we had contracted.

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