Tarrant County is forcing taxpayers to fund yet another a costly venture into the software licensing industry. And they’ve hired an anti-taxpayer lobbying group – with a failing track record – to do it.
The only voice of reason on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court appears to be Commissioner Andy Nguyen. His was the lone vote against risking an additional $24 million on another taxpayer-funded joint venture with the Texas Conference of Urban Counties (CUC), a government-lobby group.
Tarrant, Dallas, Travis, and other urban counties are in dire need of updated software to manage their court cases, jails, and other services. But instead of licensing proven software from private companies, several have partnered with the CUC to build their own software, risking millions in taxpayer money to compete with private firms. Even worse, the risky ventures have delayed the implementation of better, off-the-shelf solutions for nearly two decades.
The dubious venture is called TechShare, although its an umbrella entity created to manage the development of several software products. A previous project the CUC also oversaw – through a company called AmCad – went bankrupt.
The Texas Scorecard first broke the TechShare charade on Monday, but was unable to publish complete information regarding its total cost to taxpayers. But we were able to get a few answers at Tuesday’s Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting. To date, according to a report by the county auditor’s office, Tarrant County alone has dumped more than $39 million into TechShare. It remains unclear how much Dallas and other counties have paid.
Aside from the staggering cost, a TechShare representative (employed by the CUC) testified in open court that the two TechShare products already developed are struggling to attract new customers.
That’s right, the CUC – which has thirty-seven of Texas’ largest counties as dues-paying members – admitted it’s struggling to sell TechShare to its own members. And unsurprisingly, the CUC claims it’s due to “limited resources.” They claim they need millions more in taxpayer money to hire a “sales team” to make it successful.
It raises the question: Why should any government entity risk taxpayer funds to launch a company that competes with the private sector? It shouldn’t.
But despite the failures of TechShare’s products, the same CUC representative asked the court on Tuesday to launch another TechShare product, this time for jail management. And yet again, instead of licensing proven, off-the-shelf software from a private company for only $9.9 million over six years, the court voted 4-1 to risk $24 million in taxpayer money to develop their own product.
The less expensive option could also be implemented immediately, and was supported by Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn. By contrast, the more expensive TechShare plan will not be developed and implemented for at least two years. During his public testimony, Waybourn reported that issues with the current system have led to the improper release of numerous criminals in 2017.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley largely dismissed Waybourn’s concerns. Whitley also admitted in open court that the deciding factor in picking the more expensive option was the ability for the county to own the software. This would allow the CUC to sell the products to other counties in Texas, and across the country, in direct competition with private firms.
Prior to the court’s 4-1 decision to approval risky venture, the Texas Scorecard asked officials if anyone on the commissioners court had any expertise in the IT or software development/licensing industry. Nobody does, except for Nguyen, who voted against the proposal.
The only beneficiaries of the TechShare boondoggle are those at the CUC, and whomever they are paying. When asked by the Texas Scorecard if anyone on the court, including Whitley who serves as TechShare’s Vice Chairman, had reviewed the CUC’s financials to see where taxpayer money was spent, no one responded.
Tarrant County taxpayers should not expect this costly charade to end unless they hold their elected officials accountable for doing what’s best for local taxpayers and residents, not a public sector lobby group.