The Republican runoff election for Dallas County Commissioner will decide the fate of Dallas County’s participation in the controversial TechShare joint venture with a public-sector lobbying association. Texas Scorecard requested statements on the arrangement from both candidates in the race.
Two candidates are vying for the District 2 county commissioner seat vacated by Republican Mike Cantrell: J.J. Koch and Vic Cunningham. The winner of the May 22 runoff will be the deciding vote on whether the county continues to fund TechShare. The controversial software development scheme has already cost local taxpayer millions in losses.
Cantrell has endorsed Cunningham’s campaign.
In December of 2017, the outgoing Cantrell joined two other commissioners, Democrats Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price, to fund a new TechShare project, TechShare Jail, through a partnership with the Texas Conference of Urban Counties (CUC). What’s most troubling is the $24 million will be again be funneled through the CUC, rather than the county hiring the software vendor directly.
News reports wrongly quoted TechShare Jail’s price tag at $12 million, but that figure assumed the county would recoup part of the upfront cost after selling it to other customer counties. It’s a generous assumption considering TechShare “questionable” track record.
The 3-2 vote has drawn criticism. Why should Dallas, Tarrant, and Midland counties risk $24 million more in taxpayer money developing their own software, rather than spending only $9.9 million to license a comparable product?
If TechShare Jail is able to obtain other counties as customers, Dallas and its partner counties might be able to recoup some of the $24 million. But that assumes they’re able to out-compete private firms in the free market, and at a profit. The prospect of TechShare Jail’s success doesn’t look good.
According to public testimony by the CUC, some of TechShare’s current products are struggling to get customers. And past failures with the CUC, such as AmCad, have failed miserably. AmCad cost Dallas County taxpayers tens of millions in losses, with nothing to show for it.
Even worse, all 31 of the county’s criminal court judges detest TechShare Court, a court-management product, which is riddled with problems. It’s so bad, Travis County backed out.
An internal audit revealed Tarrant County has already spent roughly $39 million on several other TechShare products to date, several of which are still in development. This figure excludes the cost of TechShare Jail. The total price tag for Dallas County is unknown.
Whoever replaces Cantrell in the May 22 runoff will determine whether or not Dallas County continues to risk millions more on these schemes. Texas Scorecard requested written comment from both Koch and Cunningham regarding their position on TechShare. Cunningham’s campaign eventually responded, but declined to offer comment. Koch’s response is published below, in full:
“TechShare software development projects are removed from the transparency and the built-in checks and balances that are systemic in county government, such as the County Auditor. Purchasing, and most members of the Commissioners Court, are removed from the oversight and management of these projects.
“The bidding or RFP process is driven by the Executive Director of CUC and the TechShare Director, whose job security is directly reliant on the continuity of the software developments.
“The decision to develop software, rather than buying or licensing it, is largely driven by one commissioner, and isn’t based on the best interest of the end users and the taxpayers. Rather, these decisions are made to achieve the vision of owning and reselling software to recoup development costs and eventually drive down costs. This vision is more an illusion because after over two decades of operation, the return on investment is negative, costing millions.
“The criminal court software development project has been in the works for about eight years. It’s riddled with millions in cost overruns and missed deadlines. To date, it’s not fully operational, and most Dallas County judges have objected to the software development. Yet, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to create another TechShare product for the jails.
“In Tarrant County, the decision to develop the jail management software was made against the will of Sheriff Waybourn and his executive team. In Dallas County, the previous and the current Sheriff have no or little insight and input about this development. The cost to develop the jail management software is at least three times more expensive than the cost of buying an off-the-shelf product from GTL, the market leader in jail management services.
“TechShare has contracted with Sogeti to develop the jail management software, to market and sell TechShare software to other entities, and to provide personnel to support and maintain TechShare products. As a result, we now have a government-led organization with little accountability and transparency competing directly with privately owned software companies. This is big government, not limited government.”
Editors Note: After repeated requests to Cunningham’s campaign for a statement, their political consultant contacted Texas Scorecard by telephone. The consultant declined to offer either a verbal or written statement regarding TechShare.