Jefferson County officials vowed not to make the same mistakes with a new financial software purchase that were made by a previous commission, which spent nearly $20 million for a system that was eventually scrapped.
But the current commission now faces problems with its $5 million-plus replacement — a system the county needs to help comply with a non-discrimination court decree.
Officials are playing the blame game over who is responsible for the recently reported troubles.
The county’s newly purchased, recently implemented Munis Human Resources and Payroll System lacks some key components and features to be effective, according to a report delivered last week to a federal judge.
“The system in its current form is not able to validate personnel, payroll, and benefits entries to ensure compliance with Merit System rules and regulations,” wrote Lorren Oliver, the court-appointed receiver in Jefferson County’s human resources (HR) department, in a report to U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith.
That was one of several issues Oliver pointed out about the system, which went live on Oct. 1, 2015.
Now fingers are being pointed over who is responsible.
- Some county officials blame former HR department receiver Ron Sims, who was dismissed by a federal judge in May 2015.
- Sims, however, said representatives of an information technology (IT) transformation team and the personnel board share responsibility.
- Oliver, who replaced Sims as receiver, said neither he nor the personnel board played a role in the decision to acquire the new software “prior to his appointment as interim director” earlier this year.
Oliver has stressed that the system is critical for meeting requirements to help bring the county into compliance with a three-decades-old federal consent decree over its hiring practices.
Judge Smith in August 2013 ordered that a receiver be appointed after he found that the Jefferson County Commission did not abide by a 1982 federal consent decree related to hiring and firing of employees. The decree came as the result of lawsuits claiming discrimination against blacks and women in county employment practices.
Earlier this year, the county implemented the new Munis Tyler Technologies software to integrate the county’s human resources, payroll, finance, and other departments—a move that, supposedly, would make it easier for the county to keep track of financial reports and personnel matters.
County officials say the finance part of the system is working as planned. That $3.3 million system went live Oct. 1. However, the human resources/payroll system, which has so far cost $1.7 million, has problems, according to county officials. The cost is expected to grow since the work is ongoing.
The Munis system replaced an SAP accounting software system that, according to county officials, cost an estimated $19.3 million and had been problematic since 2004.
Now the new system is raising questions.
Oliver, in his report to Smith, pointed out several other problems with the Munis system, including:
- It lacks critical field validation, which would “reduce the likelihood of erroneous data by ensuring that data entered in a given field is consistent with characteristics of that data element.”
- In its current form, it does not have functionality to calculate seniority. That is important because the personnel board does not maintain employment transaction records for the county’s unclassified service, Oliver said. “Jefferson County, therefore, will need to build the functionality to maintain seniority data for its unclassified workforce within its HR system,” he said.
- It does not handle hire dates correctly. “This is evidently a bug in the system that necessitates re-entry or correction of hire dates whenever other data is entered in the system and must be corrected before any implementation.”
Oliver also wrote that the he found issues related to the payroll functions within Munis. “The system as currently designed does not engage the payroll staff in the payroll process in an effective manner,” which could lead to errors, he explained.
County officials blame Sims. They said Sims, as head of the HR department when the software was implemented, should have ensured that certain key components and features were part of the system. Sims said county officials are “misrepresenting the facts.”
“The easiest thing to do is to blame the former receiver when individuals who had and still have the designated understanding and expertise failed to do the required due diligence before entering into a contract,” he said.
“If these so-called key components and features were not included in the final agreed-upon contract between the Jefferson County Commission and Munis Tyler, that is because the county’s interim IT director and the former head of the IT transformation team … along with representatives of the [personnel board] did not deem those things as critical,” Sims said.
“All of these individuals were tasked with [and participated in numerous meetings] to ensure that all the key components and features of the Munis Human Resources and Payroll System … were indeed part of the final product,” he said.
Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos said the interim IT director and former chief of the IT transformation team “were not part of the HR function.”
“[Oliver] brought the problem to my attention after he became interim receiver, and he and I made the decision that we would not go live with the HR side of it,” Petelos said. “[Oliver] was nervous about the validation issues, and he wasn’t comfortable.”
Oliver said he communicated with Petelos and Jefferson County Chief Financial Officer George Tablack that he could not support the Oct. 1, 2015, go-live date for the HR component of the system because, “in its current design, there was no way to ensure the validity and integrity of the data in the system.”
“Shortly after I was appointed, it became very clear to me that the Munis system had significant shortcomings and could not be successfully implemented,” said Oliver, who was named interim county receiver on June 11, 2015, and permanent receiver on Nov. 19, 2015. “Consultants guiding the project acknowledged the problems and confirmed that the deficiencies could not be resolved quickly.”
Prior to his appointment as interim, Oliver said, “the personnel board had no involvement with the implementation and working knowledge of the county’s Munis system.” Nonetheless, he and Petelos said the county and personnel board are confident the issues can be addressed.
In his report to the court, Oliver pointed out that multiple meetings had been held among members of his staff at the personnel board, the county’s HR department, and the county’s IT department. In addition, a team of personnel board staff members has been assigned to assist the county with various aspects of interaction between the two sides.