(TNS) — St. Louis County has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years for a website that it plans to scrap because a vendor used programming code the tech staff can’t decipher.
The disclosure came during testimony from the county’s acting director of information technology, Charles Henderson, in a budget hearing last week with the County Council. Henderson took over the county’s IT staff in August after the administration of County Executive Sam Page parted ways with Rick Nolle, the county’s chief information officer.
Nolle, who had been hired in February 2017 by Page’s predecessor, Steve Stenger, did not respond to a message on Tuesday.
Henderson told the council that about $1 million in tech contracts awarded by the Stenger administration were considered by his staff to be losses. The most significant was a contract with Technology Partners, of Chesterfield, to operate a web “permit portal” for filing documents and to set up the county’s “Gateway 311” app for summoning nonemergency services.
Henderson told the council the website does not work as it should, and the county paid way too much for the 311 app.
“I know we have probably spent $700,000 to $800,000 on applications that we cannot maintain because they are not written in a language that we know,” Henderson said. “We’re looking to basically reverse those changes. I can’t recover the money but I can stop having to spend money on something that we shouldn’t be spending money on.”
Henderson said Nolle had chosen Technology Partners, but that at least one staffer had spoken up to say it was a “waste of money.” He said the county had ended its relationship with the firm and “we have no intention of giving them another dollar.”
In a statement, Technology Partners CEO Lisa Nichols said she strongly disagreed with how Henderson characterized her firm’s work and said her firm had only been paid $548,000.
“Technology Partners has delivered high quality strategic IT consulting services … that have fulfilled all contractual requirements to the satisfaction of the County” and had “received no complaints about the quality or operation of these apps.”
She said her company worked with the county’s project management office to develop the apps and that the county’s in-house developers contributed half of the code used in the applications. “The programming language chosen is a modern widely used language and was specifically chosen because the county had expertise with the language.”
Henderson’s comments drew alarm from council members, who are weighing a tight 2020 county budget and a possible multimillion-dollar payout in a discrimination case.
Council members said Nolle had asked the council for supplemental appropriations, and they believed his staff was making upgrades to the web portal for permits to make it more functional. Councilman Mark Harder, R-7th District, said the council had been told the portal would be profitable for the county.
“It’s a big deal because we’ve got people that haven’t gotten raises in the county government,” Harder said. “We’ve got potholes, we’ve got buildings falling apart and we just blew $1 million and nobody’s said anything to this board along the way.”
Henderson said, “We have no ability to take that existing application and modify it or add to it or actually make it what it was originally intended to be. The only way to do that is ... hire the same contractor that wrote it because they’re the other ones that had the source code to do any changes or additions. And in my opinion that is throwing good money after bad.”
After the hearing, Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, said it was a “glaring example of government waste … clear negligence if not malfeasance.” He said it was unacceptable that a county with an $800 million annual budget had a website such as something from the end of the 20th century.
Henderson said the county’s in-house IT staff was working to relaunch a county website and app between April and July of next year.
Nichols donated $5,000 to Stenger’s campaign in December 2017, not long after her company signed a contract for the tech work.
“We had a lot of friends who were behind Stenger and we had been asked to consider donating to him,” Nichols said. “And after I did our due diligence and talked to people to find out what his plans were for St. Louis, we want to get behind those people who we feel are going to move the city and state forward. But it had nothing to do with our contract. We already had the contract with them and it had nothing to do with him.”
She said Stenger did not solicit her directly for a donation to his campaign.
©2019 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.