The Barron County Board of Supervisors will vote on June 17 on a resolution designed to mend the financial miscue caused when the Sheriff Department’s unauthorized contract with Spillman Technologies Inc. for $744,238.50 was signed in December 2017. 

Back on April 23, the Sheriff’s Department received a $105,576 bill from Motorola Solutions, parent company of Spillman, for 911 dispatch software currently in County operation.

On April 25, County Finance Director Jodi Busch found out a contract had been signed when the Sheriff’s Department notified her of the bill. It was determined the department did not have the payment allocated in its budget.  

This resolution would provide that payment in the form of a lump sum of $422,306.40 paid to Motorola in January 2020. 

Initially, a payment of $105,576.60 was to be paid February of every year, with the last payment occurring in 2022. 

The Sheriff’s Department would pay $88,784 of the $105,577. Other departments in the County using the software would provide the difference.

The four payments would be compressed into one. 

On June 11, Busch told the Chronotype the resolution would help clean up the situation by allowing a new contract to be signed which would then be filed with the government. The County’s bond rating with Standard & Poor’s, its borrowing power, its debt levy plan and its financing would not be affected as she had warned was possible during the May 20 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The new agreement also evades the messy discussion of the legality of the original contract, since the sheriff does not have the authority to bind the County into an agreement. 

This may be one reason Motorola brought this agreement re-write to the attention of Jeff French on May 17. It’s a win for the company, as it lends goodwill by providing a solution, and it gets it’s money two years sooner.

The resolution would authorize a 0% General Obligation Debt—which Busch explained was similar to excessing a savings fund—for the full total of $422,306.40. This agreement would add no interest to the County’s bill and would not effect the tax levy except for 2020.

An audit will be conducted, but Busch said at this time it is unknown what it will involve.

For the resolution to pass on Monday, 3/4 of Supervisors must be in  favor. 

Busch said this agreement would work with current County obligations including a resolution to borrow $529,000 from the state trust fund for the Waste Industry Plant that will be reviewed Monday and two bonds due in 2021 and 2022 for the Justice Center. 

The Highway Department will be adversely affected. Funding for its new facility would be pushed back to 2023 to bankroll the Spillman payment.

Busch stated that with approximately 20 departments, good communication is needed. 

Communication has been an issue.

During the May 20 meeting, Busch said the crux of the contract matter was that it didn’t go through the proper process. At the time, the County’s policy for contract approval required a Contract Approval Form and approval of the County Administrator and the Corporation Counsel.

The one page approval form’s purpose is “to limit the County’s exposure to liability and prevent the purchase of duplicate services.” An updated form will be presented to the board in June that increases the signatures required by adding the Finance Director’s.

No approval of the Spillman contract occurred. 

The contract—with 16 pages redacted by Motorola Solutions for proprietary reasons—was provided to the Chronotype by the County through a records request. 

The contract is separated into two areas: section A, maintenance and section B, software. 

County Administrator Jeff French told the Chronotype he had seen the maintenance portion, section A, on April 25. 

The sheriff approached the board with an offer from Spillman for prepayment of the maintenance. This deal would save the County $38,902.44. The Board of Supervisors approved the prepayment of the maintenance portion for an amount not to exceed $216,355.50.

The maintenance payment of $45,675 was properly budgeted by the Sheriff’s department. It was the software agreement, section B, that was neglected. 

French said he saved the full 51 page contract, including the software agreement, to his computer on May 17. Up until then, he said, the total contract had not been revealed to him.

The software agreement was the four yearly payments of $105,577.

When asked how that large of a payment slips through a budget review process involving the head of the department, finance director and county administrator, French explained that he hadn’t known about it. “It’s just that simple,” he said.

Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald has made himself available at public meetings to clarify the mistake was unintentional and has apologized ad nauseam.

Contacted by phone Tuesday, Fitzgerald said this was the only contract he signed as sheriff. He stated the Spillman software had not been a secret and the purchase had been approved but the final paperwork had not been complete. 

It was exciting, he said, and the software was going to benefit the County.

He signed the contract, he said, because “it said ‘Sheriff sign here.’” 

The contract was written by Spillman, which likely did not know County policy and assumed the Sheriff could bind the County.

Typed into the contract is “Accepted and Approved by: Barron County Sheriff’s Office,” followed by a signature line. Fitzgerald’s signature appears on four pages of the contract.

On Monday, Supervisors will vote on a 10 point Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that would limit the Sheriff’s Department’s autonomy.

The plan would require existing contacts to be turned over to the Counsel’s office and would freeze the Sheriff’s Department’s budget for 2 years, excluding percentage increases in wages and health insurance. Hiring would also be on hold 2 years. 

One of the CAP items concerns the County’s fixed assets—defined in the Contract approval form as any item who’s working life is more than one year in length: anything from a stapler to a squad car. 

The County’s new Comprehensive Fixed Asset Policy states that when disposing of an asset, if it was originally purchased for over $500, it must be sold on public auction. 

The new policy was put in place due to a motorcycle sold by the Sheriff’s Department through consignment at the Harley Davidson store in Rice Lake instead of being sold at auction. This did not violate any County policy.

Fitzgerald said the motorcycle was used to serve court papers and sold after its operator retired and no one expressed interest in driving it. He said it was thought the County would get a good price by trying the consignment route. 

A records request revealed the 2013 Harley Davidson FLHTP Electra Glide was originally purchased for $21,392.21 in May of 2013. It was sold by the sheriff’s department on August 17, 2018 for $9,513.16.

Fitzgerald said Harley Davidson charged a small consignment fee, similar to the fees charged by the auto auction. He did not know the vehicle’s milage, but said there were not very many.

Kelly Blue Book states a trade in value for that bike of $8,030 and a dealer’s listing at $10,940 with “average condition and milage.”

Online, a dealer in Orlando currently has that year and model bike for $12,299 with 16,535 miles, while a private seller in Texas is selling their bike for $9,200 with 7,300 miles.

Fitzgerald explained the department would sometimes trade vehicles in or send squad cars to a dealer auction at Chippewa Valley Auto. The dealer would clean the cars and remove their police markings, he said, which saved the department time and money. 

Everything would now be going through public auction, he said. 

The CAP would also require a fixed asset review—separate from the annual budget review—with the Finance Director and County Auditor. A physical inspection of the department’s assets could be requested.

The final stipulation cryptically states the use of County property is for County purposes only. French told the Chronotype he had no knowledge of anyone in the Sheriff’s Department improperly using County property and said it was included just to reinforce the policy. 

Fitzgerald suspected the provision was added due to a photo op involving the Cameron High School Softball Team and the Sheriff Department’s BearCat armored tactical vehicle. Fitzgerald said the softball coach is also a member of the SWAT team and had requested permission to drive it to the field so players could be photographed on top of it.

Fitzgerald said he approved the request and that it was similar to other public relation activities the department has brought the BearCat to.

 He said the photo had not been discussed between him and County Administration but that he planned on bringing it up. 

The CAP has been agreed to by the Sheriff’s Department and County Administration and would take affect if approved by Supervisors on Monday.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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