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How Did Cuyahoga County Spend $1.1M on a Service That Never Happened?

A 53-page report details the bureaucratic dysfunction that allowed the Ohio county to pay for a jail management system it never used due to a signing bonus fixation, lack of planning and poor management.

How does $1 million in government money go to waste?

Of course, there are countless ways to answer that question. But in the case of Cuyahoga County’s failure to recognize it was paying for a jail management system it never used, it boils down to the following: Fixation from top county officials on a contract signing bonus. County Council being left in the dark on what, exactly, they were approving. A failure to notice monthly charges for an unused service. Lost opportunities to recoup taxpayer money. And a government contractor who made mistakes with zero accountability.

At a recent council meeting, County Inspector General Alexa Beeler presented the findings of her office’s investigation into what led to the county paying $1.1 million to Securus Technologies for a jail management program that never materialized. Cleveland.com obtained a copy of Beeler’s 53-page report – an autopsy of bureaucratic dysfunction that dissects the layers of systemic failure from the top of county government down.

Here’s what it shows.

In 2016, under the administration of former County Executive Armond Budish, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, was seeking a new system for handling phone calls from detainees in the county jail. In its request for companies to submit bids for the best services and prices, the county included a bonus opportunity: Companies could also pitch their proposals to run a “jail management system.”

Such software keeps track of people housed in the jail and what crimes they are charged with. It displays that information, along with a mugshot, to the public.

In response to the county’s formal request for private-sector bids, Securus Technologies submitted a $12-million proposal for both the jail communication system and its jail management system called XJail. The county received three bids, but accepted Securus’ proposal, following a vote from County Council.

According to Beeler’s report, however, there was no mention of XJail in either the administration’s presentation to council before the vote, or in the legislation council eventually approved. So, council was unaware of the contract’s full scope.

The deal with Securus was an unusual type of “revenue-generating” contract for the county. The county would be paid 70 percent of the money Securus collected from paid calls inmates made from the jail. But a portion of the county’s revenue would then be diverted to pay for XJail, a separate project. For one month detailed in the report, June 2019, Cuyahoga County received $122,194 total in commission for jail calls.

Securus had promised in its proposal to have XJail up and running in four months, but delays kept pushing that deadline back.

In November 2021, one month before the planned go-live date, Securus told the county it would be sunsetting support for XJail in 2024, without ever having implemented it. All along, however, Securus was withholding the funds from the county to pay for it. And Securus continued to do so – charging the county $15,111 monthly – even after the county decided to scrap the XJail plan and stick with its existing system. The charges only stopped after Beeler’s office discovered them in 2023.

All told, Beeler says, Securus took more than $860,000 from the county for XJail, and the county also paid more than $255,000 since 2016 for county staff to labor over a plan that never landed. Those labor costs are “conservative,” Beeler told cleveland.com.

Signing Bonus


So how did the county end up in this boondoggle?

One of the driving factors in why Cuyahoga County signed the contract with Securus for XJail was because the company offered the county a $2 million signing bonus, according to a summary of an interview between inspectors and Donna Kaleal, the business service manager for the Sheriff’s Department Fiscal Office.

“When asked why Securus was awarded the contract, Kaleal said that (former Jail Director Ken Mills) told her Securus is going to win this because Armond Budish, former County Executive, wanted the signing bonuses Securus offered,” the report stated.

In an interview this week with cleveland.com, Budish said he did not remember the details of the contract, but “I typically wouldn’t get involved in details like that.”

Kaleal, herself, was involved in negotiating the signing bonus, while emphasizing how important the bonuses are to the county, according to emails discovered by the inspector general.

“Can you call to discuss? We really need the $3M at least the first year until everything (is) up and running,” Kaleal wrote to a Securus representative in March 2016. “Please call to discuss but it is imperative we get the 3 in year one.”

The negotiations were taking place at a time when Budish’s administration was also fixated on monetizing the county jail in other ways, through a jail regionalization plan that eventually created crowded, inhumane conditions and led to numerous inmate deaths.

The county ended up getting $2 million in the signing bonus, which inspectors found was deposited into county coffers.

“The whole thing was seen as this big, giant money-maker,” Beeler said.

Lack of Planning


While the signing bonus seemed to give Securus a leg up from its competitors, the entire project was disastrous from the moment it went out to bid, according to Beeler’s report.

For one, Cuyahoga County simply invited companies bidding on the jail’s phone system to also submit a proposal for a jail management system, without defining what it needed from such a program or describing the county’s technical limitations.

While the county’s Information Technology department was involved in the approval process, it wasn’t a “driving force” in setting the parameters for a piece of software – and it should have been.

“IT, I feel like for this one, was more of an afterthought,” Beeler said.

As a result, Cuyahoga County did not know until later that XJail lacked the capability to transfer 100 percent of the data from the existing jail management system. Missing data in the new system could have led to people being released early from jail or being arrested based on inactive warrants, Beeler said.

“There was a huge difference between what was agreed upon and what was needed,” Jail Administrator Rhonda Gibson told inspectors.

As early as October 2017, the county realized its contract with Securus was inadequate. So, Donna Kaleal signed a change order for $155,575. That was just one of several change orders on the project that totaled a combined $247,450.

Oddly, inspectors did not find evidence Cuyahoga County paid Securus for the change orders, which Councilman Michael Gallagher told investigators should have gone through the county’s board of control, according to the report.

While the county was fumbling with the failed jail management system, its old jail management system was causing problems, too. In 2019, a glitch with the old system made headlines when it “failed to compile the names of more than 100 inmates with scheduled court proceedings.” That jammed up court hearings for three hours, cleveland.com reported previously. The delay had been the second one that week.

At some point, Securus reportedly realized it was in over its head. Associate Jail Warden Philip Christopher told the inspector general’s office that a Securus representative told him Cuyahoga County should never have bought into XJail because the jail was too big for the software, according to the report.

“A lot of this was on Securus,” Beeler said. “They sold us a product they really shouldn’t have sold us.”

Asleep at the Wheel


Though the process had issues from the beginning, a series of failures made it all worse for Cuyahoga County.

For example, Securus repeatedly had a total of five different project managers overseeing Cuyahoga County’s XJail account, Christopher told investigators. He likened it to “starting from the beginning each time there was a new project manager,” at Securus.

In November 2021, Securus told the county it was planning to end tech support for XJail in 2024, so the company offered to compensate the county for its trouble. The company offered three options. Two of them involved $574,222 in refunds, plus waiving a $247,450 outstanding balance and issuing credit toward a new jail management system.

Those two proposals were valued at $1.74 million and $2 million, respectively. A third option would have allowed the county to move ahead with the plan to install and use XJail, even if only for a few years before it would become obsolete. Securus offered to waive the $247,450 outstanding balance, plus provide a discount.

Had Cuyahoga County taken either of the two options that involved canceling XJail, the county would have recouped all the money spent on the failed program and then some. Even the option to keep XJail would have at least defrayed some of the costs.

However, Cuyahoga County officials never responded to Securus. That meant, in effect, the county had invented for itself a worse, fourth option: Keep the condemned software without receiving any of the benefits Securus offered.

On top of all that, nobody in the county was comparing the commission checks from Securus to the phone traffic from the jail to make sure Securus wasn’t shorting the county. When the inspector general’s office did the math, they concluded that Securus owed the county $10,000 for those calls. Inspectors referred that to the county’s law department to join a list of payments the county seeks to recoup from Securus, Beeler said.

“The correct processes were not followed,” Beeler said.

For its part, Cuyahoga County is promising changes following the report, spokeswoman Kelly Woodard said in an email.

For one, Cuyahoga County is in the process of reviewing bids for a separate jail management software. This time the request for proposals included input from the inspector general’s office and the Department of Information Technology.

The county is also making sure all county employees get the same training on how to review and process invoices. Plus, the county is launching a separate internal investigation into “the staff and processes involved in the failed jail management contract,” Woodard said.



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