The controversial purchase of accounting software systems made by Camden County officials in 2011 continues to dog Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken. Recently, the county terminated its contract with HCPS and Timothy Otten, who were contracted to provide accounting software programs for payroll, purchasing and accounts payable and receivable. County officials did not pay the final installment of the $60,000 contract. This decision was reached after a meeting of county employees revealed deep troubles with the contracted systems.
The contract has been the subject of public scrutiny from the beginning, as questionable behavior surrounded the bid process. After spending $53,000 on software that has been an unmitigated failure, the citizens of Camden County demand answers. They are, after all, stuck with the bill.
On October 14, 2011, the Lake Sun Leader’s Joyce Miller reported on the irregularities of the bidding process. In her investigation, it was learned that only two companies were given an opportunity to bid on the contract. These bid solicitations were hand-delivered by Kris Franken. As Joyce points out, this appears to bypass state statute.
Additionally, state statutes require that any bid solicitation for contracts in excess of three thousand dollars MUST be advertised in a local paper with a circulation of at least five hundred copies per issue. As Ms. Miller reported, the contract was not advertised for bid in either the Lake Sun or the Camden County Reporter. This was uncovered when the county could not fulfill a Missouri Sunshine Law request for documents relating to the bid.
The two bid requests were given to HCPS Software of Licking, MO, who specialize in software for the fuel distribution industry and Huber and Associates of Jefferson City, who had provided technical and network support to the county for years. Of these two bid requests, the only one that was returned in time for consideration for the May 10, 2011 vote was the bid belonging to HCPS and Timothy Otten. The bid request from Huber and Associates was not received in time for the vote.
According to former county IT employee Leslie Chamberlin, the reason a bid was not submitted by Huber and Associates was a matter of timing. On a recent podcast of Guerrilla Radio with American Spring, Ms. Chamberlin described a bid solicitation that was doomed to fail.
“Mr. Franken had told a rep from Huber and Associates that the county was having issues with the payroll package they had. They were using MAS2000 and were not happy with the response they were getting from that company when issues arose. Huber was never told about the accounts payable or purchasing side to my knowledge. Huber was not made aware that a normal bid process had been issued until the day that bid deadline occurred. Franken came down one half hour prior to the meeting where the bid was going to be awarded and asked if he had his proposal ready. He explained that the company was close to completing the proposal, but not finished. Franken told him he was sorry, but the bid process was ending that day in thirty minutes. Camden County has done business for years with Huber. In my opinion, this was an underhanded way of removing a true competitor from the bid process. Huber and Associates chose not to say anything to Camden County about the subject because they wanted to keep their relationship intact, but I am sure they were not pleased that they had spent hours creating a proposal that was never to be seen.”
The result was a sole bid, confirmed by both meeting minutes and Commissioner Bev Thomas, who, when questioned by the Lake Sun about the software purchase said: ‘ “It was not included in the 2011 budget. I am aware that the sheriff was looking at computerizing some of the financial information in his department but was not informed when it was decided to incorporate the entire county. I became aware of it at bid opening for a provider. I am not aware of any presentations that were made to the county. At bid opening there was only 1 bid,” Thomas said. ‘
Franken defended his position in the Camden County Reporter, stating that the software was not an ”off-the-shelf” product, therefore normal bidding procedures need not apply. In an online response to the scandal, Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken hailed the software purchase as a “positive accomplishment” with “multiple” county officials working together. County Clerk Rowland Todd contributed $50,000 toward the purchase. Sheriff Dwight Franklin and the Commission each made $5,000 available for the software.
Franken, from the Reporter:
“Our entire package, which encompasses far more employees than any of the local cities and also includes accounts receivable, accounts payable, and purchasing, all on one platform, will only cost the county $60,000.”
His undocumented claim was in reference to payroll systems used by other municipalities.
At the heart of the software scandal lies the relationship between Timothy Otten and several local political officials. Franken, for his part, has come out in attempts to minimize the nature of his relationship with Otten. He has stated, in a June 20, 2013 letter to the editor of Lake Expo, that he met Otten on “the evening of the primary. So at that point, I did technically know him.” At the time of this writing, it is unclear if Franken’s biodiesel business, RK Services/GoBio! and Otten’s HCPS, specialists in software for the fuel industry, had ties prior to Franken’s 2010 election campaign.
What has been confirmed however, is that Otten was friendly with the campaigns of Diane Franklin (R- State Rep. 155th Dist.), Aaron Koeppen (R-Assoc. Circuit Judge, Camden County) and Kris Franken in 2010. This is a fact confirmed by American Spring, citing a Facebook post made by Franken that October. In that post, Kris Franken confirms that Otten, Franklin, Koeppen, John Beckett and himself formed a trivia team for a local political event.
Accounts provided by former county IT department employees go further in describing the relationship between Kris Franken and Timothy Otten. Tony Beabout, in addition to having formerly worked for the county, was a contributor to Franken’s campaign for Presiding Commissioner. Beabout had worked on Kris Franken’s campaign website. After the software contract had been awarded to HCPS, Beabout introduced Otten to fellow former employee Leslie Chamberlin, as “Kris’ friend”. He also indicated that Otten had helped him to some degree with Franken’s website during the 2010 campaign.
“Tony and Tim worked out together at a local fitness club prior to Tony being fired. I remember Tony telling me how excited he was to be part of that crowd. They played him like a fiddle. The day Tony got Franken had hired Huber and Associates to secure the County’s IT Systems in order to lock Tony out of any potential ways into the network. Kris Franken used Tony’s relationship with Otten against him by having Tim text Tony to keep track of his whereabouts. Tony had to go to Columbia that day for his wife’s high risk pregnancy appointment. He was supposed to be back in the office around noon, but Franken wanted to make sure that Tony did not walk into the IT Department and see the Huber team at work. I thought it was awful that he would use that type of doctor’s appointment to his advantage and also use Tony like he did. Tony created the blog that Franken used which was key to winning his election. Please go to http://www.electkrisfranken.com. Franken tried to tell me, not realizing I was friends with Tony, that Tony had hijacked his website. Tony was able to post the comment out there and remove Franken’s blog because he owned the domain, not Kris. That proves he did the work for free for Franken. Then he used Otten to keep tabs on Tony. Seems pretty strange for a third party payroll vendor to do such a thing for Camden County. To me, that proves they were friends all along.
When Tony brought Tim Otten in to meet me, I immediately questioned Tim about the programming languages that were going to be used in our purchased software components. He said it was RPG, which is a native language to the County’s System i (formerly known as an AS400 and iSeries). I asked him if it incorporated service programs knowing that was a more modern use of the language. He told me no. I then asked if it was written in RPGIV. His response was some but mostly RPGIII which was used in the late nineties. I was astonished that we were buying a new system written in old code. My next question was whether or not we would have access to the source code. He said potentially but not until the system was in place and working. This seemed odd to me because that would give the county the ability to make its own custom changes if they did have access and should be something directly discussed in any contract between HCPS and Camden County. It showed me that Franken had no forethought or had plans of permanently hiring Mr. Otten. Right around the same time, Franken had brought me into his office and I was told I had to choose between programming and GIS and was not going to do both in the future. I chose GIS and he was very pleased although he just let me work for a year after that without telling me whether or not I should still be doing both jobs. He left me in limbo because he had planned on firing me.”
In the rush to issue this political kickback, county officials failed to use due diligence. For example, no research appears to have been done, either by HCPS or county officials, into possible connectivity issues. The network was not equipped to support aspects of the software system. This has led to additional costs for the tax payers of the county and has contributed to the overall ineffectiveness of the programs. To this date, the purchase software has not been implemented. The payroll software has been riddled with issues. Information still drops out and must be manually entered for retirees. It was these issues that prompted courthouse employees to bring the issue up with Commissioner Cliff Luber.
According to Commissioner Luber, he was approached by a county employee regarding the purchasing software. The employee had numerous concerns and described the HCPS program as ‘not user-friendly’ and ‘difficult’ to use. The program was nearing implementation and the employee didn’t feel comfortable going to Franken with concerns. The employee cited the close relationship between Franken and Otten as the reason for turning to Commissioner Luber.
Commissioner Luber followed up with courthouse employees and officials in various departments. The complaints were echoed throughout. ‘The system didn’t do what HCPS claimed it could’ was a popular refrain.
Then, Commissioner Luber brought his findings to Franken, who responded that the employees were complaining because the program was new. When Luber pressed for a meeting between departments on the subject, Franken complied.
In the meantime, the county’s IT department took it upon themselves to design an alternative purchasing program. A meeting was scheduled with employees, the IT department and county officials to discuss the various problems with the purchasing program, which was nearing installation by HCPS. At this meeting, the IT department made a presentation of their alternative program. The employees and officials agreed it was a superior product and decided to use the in-house product instead.
It was after this meeting that the decision was made not to pay the final installment of the contract, in the amount of $7,000. The $7,000 bill was not a negotiated refund. It was a bill the county simply didn’t pay.
Franken, in his recent letter to Lake Expo, claimed that he “negotiated a $7,000 credit with the company and the termination of this contract”. In a letter from the county to HCPS, as recounted in the Camden County Reporter, “the scope of the project had changed internally.”
It is not known if this is intended to reflect the county’s need for software that worked.
What are known, are the following facts: Kris Franken engaged in a cover-up in order to protect campaign contributor Tony Beabout after Beabout admitted to Franken that he had broken into the emails of a county employee. Franken chose to hide Beabout’s actions until they came to light in reports from the Lake Sun. At that point, out of options, Beabout was terminated. It is not unreasonable to assume he would engage in more unethical behavior in order to benefit another friend of his campaign.
The bid process was not handled according to state statutes. This alone creates the appearance of impropriety. The bid process appears to have been manipulated to ensure that Tim Otten’s bid was the only option for the county. As is a matter of public record, the project was not budgeted for. As a result of real world application, the project was not researched. The contract was rushed out the door. This was both reckless and irresponsible. The result of this lack of discussion and discourse led directly to some of the issues the courthouse has experienced. Commissioner Bev Thomas has confirmed that there was no previous discussion of the software program being implemented throughout departments. Her first knowledge of the programs came when she saw the solitary bid from HCPS.
The county spent $53,000 dollars on software that has not lived up to the specifications of the contract. Under no circumstances can the goods and services received from HCPS be said to have fulfilled the requirements of the agreement. Thanks to the letter Franken claims credit for, legal options for suing HCPS for breach of contract could be limited. Franken’s letter lays the fault for this breach on the county, even going so far as to say that “the county’s in-house computer department had gotten involved in modifications that were not initially contracted”. Thanks to that letter from Franken, a lawsuit to recover any part of the $53,000 contract may be difficult. He has issued a legal defense to his friend, Tim Otten, that may protect him against any future action the county might consider.
It is not a reach to characterize this software contract as a political kickback. Every piece of the puzzle bears the stain of scandal. Tim Otten was rewarded for his work in Camden County during the 2010 elections. The county, on the other hand, bears the cost for a product that does not work as laid out in the contract. It is unclear at this time the final cost to the tax payers will be.
Kris Franken has offered us assurances and assertions, yet there are precious few facts to back up his claims regarding the software scandal. He has left a litany of spin in his wake and his trustworthiness has been called into question on several occasions. What is clear is that the Franken File is far from complete and the software scandal is far from over, despite Franken’s attempts to sweep it away.
Requests for comments to this piece have been sent to County Clerk Rowland Todd, County Attorney Charles McElyea, Sheriff Dwight Franklin and Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken. Additional comment has also been requested from the Missouri State Attorney General’s Office and the Missouri Ethics Commission.