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VOL. 125 | NO. 227 | Monday, November 22, 2010

Commission Considers IT Consolidation, New Position

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County commissioners take up the issue of consolidation once again at Monday’s meeting of the body.

It’s not consolidation of city and county governments, though. Voters dealt with that on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The proposal is to consolidate information technology functions in county government and hire someone to oversee that coordination, which might be just as politically volatile.

Monday’s meeting at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St., begins at 1:30 p.m.

On the agenda are two resolutions.

One would create the position of county chief information officer to oversee IT operations for not only county government but the other countywide elected officials whose offices are established by the Tennessee Constitution.

The other resolution would leave it up to those elected officials to opt into the coordinated system.

Four of those officials – Register Tom Leatherwood, Criminal Court Clerk Kevin Key, Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore and General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson – indicated at a committee session last week that they are opposed to being part of such a system.

“All the savings still can be realized through actions of this County Commission without usurping the power of elected officials,” Leatherwood said of claims by the Luttrell administration that the new approach to IT could save the county several million dollars.

“We’re attacking where the hardware is going to sit.”

Key, who was the IT director for Circuit Court before he was elected Criminal Court clerk earlier this year, praised the work of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research that recommended the new approach.

“However, it does also strip the authority of elected officials to have authority over their staffs,” he said. “How can a person answer to two separate people?”

But Trustee David Lenoir said he would cooperate.

“The path we’re on financially is unsustainable,” he said of county government in general. “If we have a mainframe in our office, we have someone who is watching that mainframe. Do we need all those people watching those mainframes? My guess would be we do not.”

In addition to Lenoir and County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham and Assessor Cheyenne Johnson have opted in to the new system, according to County Finance Director Jim Huntzicker. By Huntzicker’s estimate, they account for about 80 percent of county government’s IT use.

“The tail is wagging the dog,” he said of the other elected officials with reservations. “And you are going to lose the efficiency of the whole deal.”

County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, however, made a distinction between efficiency and accountability.

“Don’t answer me with efficiencies and try to resell me on your product. I’m fine with that,” he said. “But give them an option because they are elected officials to opt out in case you screw up.”

Luttrell, who recently completed eight years as sheriff, described himself as

a “convert” to the consolidated IT approach.

“It meets an overarching goal that each one of us has,” he said last week. “We’ve got to come up with a government that’s responsive, efficient and costs less.”

He became a convert as sheriff following the mistaken release of a man convicted of murder from the county jail. While some human error was involved, Luttrell said his investigation also revealed a “deep systemic deficiency” in the computer system that tracked inmates.

“It took us a long time to even discover where that deficiency was,” Luttrell said. “There were so many layers.”

County Commissioner Heidi Shafer proposed the opt-in feature and argued it was possible to give the clerks that option and still have a more efficient IT plan.

But when the opt-in feature won the recommendation of a committee last week, it prompted Commissioner Mike Carpenter to withdraw as sponsor of the resolution creating the position of chief information officer.

“I don’t see why we create a $155,000-a-year position for only a portion of the system,” he said.

The CIO resolution goes to the full commission Monday with a negative recommendation from the committee.

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