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County split over county record digitalization contract

May 11th, 2017 under Top Stories

By NICK WINCHESTER

nick@bigbendnow.com

MARFA — Debate turned tense during a drawn-out County Commissioners Court Tuesday when the proposed digitalization of county documents and records was discussed. County Commissioners, the Judge, the Attorney, Clerk and JP, as well as members of the public, all spoke and raised concerned over the controversial agenda item.

Item 21 on the agenda was a discussion with action to approve the bid for document management services. The final decision will be made during the 2018 budget process and is contingent on the final approval of the contract by County Attorney Rod Ponton.

The county’s director of the office for management and budget, Katie Sanchez, responded to what she called a misunderstanding about what the court asked for.

“We’re simply asking for documents to be scanned, stored and backed up in electronic version, that’s it. It’s not to share with the public. It’s just to have a back-up of county records,” she told the court.

The highest bidding company, S&K Computer Works, has already made an on-site visit to the courthouse, Sanchez said. It was the only one out of all bidding companies to do so. Sanchez added that this was the fifth-time document management had been on the agenda, so it should be no surprise to commissioners that the county has plans to have documents backed up electronically.

Sanchez said a second company, Kofile Technologies, could only provide preservation services and would remove documents and take them to Dallas.

County Clerk Virginia Pallarez told the court that there is a designated preservation fund for this process but questioned the safety of releasing documents into the hands of an outside entity.

Commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez aired his concern to the court regarding whether or not documents would be backed up prior to the firm dealing with county records.

Commissioner Hernandez, who was on the committee regarding this matter, said “I don’t see a problem with backing them up and sending them to this firm.”

Pallarez asked Sanchez whether the documents would be bonded.

County Attorney Rod Ponton told the court that in the County’s contractual conditions with the service provider, the documents could be required to be bonded. Ponton also suggested that sensitive information, such as social security numbers, not be copied.

Judge Guevara raised concern over the cost to the County of the process. Some confusion followed regarding the cost until Sanchez confirmed the bill would be $300,000 over a five year period.

Clerk Pallarez questioned the company’s qualifications and added that the on-site visit was inadequate.

Commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley told the court she phoned the company to check their credentials. The representative she spoke to was defensive and not forthcoming about their previous work. Commissioner Bentley added that she was told that as a private entity they would not provide such information.

County Auditor Patricia Roach told the court she was concerned that the company’s references need to be checked. She added, “We don’t want to be their [S&K’s] first client.”

“They are an up-and-starting company,” Commissioner Bentley said the representative told her, “and that they didn’t have the personnel for this but that they were going to hire once we offer it up.”

Sanchez replied to Bentley’s remarks and said, “that is a totally different story to what I got.”

Following this, a back and forth ensued between Sanchez and Bentley, Sanchez saying she has the telephone number for S&K who were expecting a call from Commissioners Court. Bentley repeatedly told Sanchez that she had already spoke to them and was not satisfied.

Raising his hand to speak, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace David Beebe told the court he did not want to embarrass anyone but wanted some light to be shed on a conflict of interest rumor he had heard. The rumors, Beebe said, “were that this company has some connection to somebody who is making decisions on behalf of this county.”

Beebe said, “If that’s true, I think this is the last possible time for somebody who may have a direct or indirect conflict of interest to forward.”

To this, Commissioner Hernandez said he had also heard rumors that he was related to guys in the company. Beebe confirmed that that was what he had heard and said he was not accusing Hernandez.

“How can you even think that I am related to this person,” Hernandez said, “I’m as Mexican as they come and these guys are white.”

Hernandez added that the rumors were “laughable” and Beebe conceded, saying “that was all you needed to say.”

No further discussion on the conflict of interest came up during the court.

Commissioners Hernandez and Eloy Aranda agreed that the bidding companies should attend County Commissioners Court and give a presentation.

Commissioner Aranda put forward the motion to approve the bid for document management services contingent on the 2018 budget, as well as financial guarantees, bonding and references. The contract would also be dependent on the the County Attorney’s final review.

Prior to the discussion of regular agenda during Commissioners Court, Judge Guevara read out a letter from Presidio City Mayor John Ferguson. In the letter, Mayor Ferguson raised his dissatisfaction regarding south county residents having to make the 100-mile roundtrip to Marfa in order to access county records and conduct business with the County Clerk. Mayor Ferguson’s letter added that digital transmission of documents to Presidio would help solve this issue.

During the court’s debate of agenda item 21, Presidio ISD board member Carlos M. Nieto handed me a copy of Mayor Ferguson’s letter and stressed the importance of this issue to Presidio residents.

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