Taxpayers have been receiving alarming news about how their tax dollars have been wasted on aspects of a project known as TechShare.
Texas Scorecard has been covering the issue since 2017, and with recent news reports it seems timely to review just what TechShare is, what the problems are, and where taxpayers find themselves now.
A description on TechShare’s website describes it as:
“A program of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties (CUC), [that] was established in 2004 to help counties implement advanced technology solutions. By collaborating, counties save money by sharing the cost of research and development. These projects can produce applications, systems, or other technology assets to enable more efficient processes for administration of justice. Counties outside of the program can ‘purchase’ the software from the counties that originally funded development. The money used to develop the software is not retained by the TechShare program.”
In short, TechShare is an organizational arm of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties that produces software for governments.
The Texas Conference of Urban Counties (CUC), according to their website, is “a non-profit organization composed of 37 member counties that represent approximately 80% of the population of Texas.”
They are funded entirely with taxpayer dollars and are the second most powerful “public sector lobby” group in the entire state. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley sits on the board of the CUC, serving as the vice-chair of TechShare.
There are currently 5 programs TechShare offers: Indigent Defense, Prosecutor, Juvenile, Jail, and Court.
Indigent Defense, Prosecutor, and Juvenile are presently in use, with 12 counties using Indigent Defense and 250 counties using Juvenile. All three were originally created by Tarrant, Dallas, and Bell counties. The CUC later took responsibility overseeing all of the software under the umbrella organization, TechShare. As of February 1, there are no reported issues with either of the above three programs.
Around 2012, TechShare began developing additional software to replace outdated software in the court systems of Dallas, Tarrant, and other counties. The new software is known as TechShare.Court. It had the goal of being developed in-house so Tarrant, Dallas, and Travis counties could earn back the money taxpayers invested through licensing fees of the software to other counties.
Issues began to appear in 2015 when all 31 of the Dallas’ criminal court judges declared TechShare.Court unusable and refused to work with it. This was after Dallas County had already spent $7 million in taxpayer dollars on the project.
Troubles would only grow as TechShare would soon be tasked with another project while still dealing with the bogged down TechShare.Court.
Dallas, Tarrant and Travis counties needed to replace their outdated jail software and they had picked a company called AmCad to develop one for them. AmCad was picked in spite of their bid being over $5 million more than competitor Tyler Technologies, all because Tyler wouldn’t release the source code so that the counties could sell the software licenses to others, like they planned to do with TechShare.Court.
In 2017 AmCad went bankrupt, and all taxpayers had paid them for was an unusable piece of software. Rather than going back to Tyler or another alternative available on the free market, Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted to waste an additional $24 million of taxpayer dollars to assign the project to the already burdened TechShare organization. Then Precinct 2 Commissioner Andy Nguyen was the only vote against it. In spite of the fact TechShare had yet to complete Court, and there was as of yet no evidence they were close to completion, this decision would allow the county to sell the license for their software to others. Dallas County also voted to fund the new project, titled TechShare.Jail.
By the end of 2017, there were no signs of completion for Court or Jail. What’s more, the CUC struggled to sell the software even to its own members, outside of the ones involved in the development: namely Tarrant, Dallas, and Travis counties (though Travis withdrew entirely from the project, leaving the taxpayers of Tarrant and Dallas to shoulder the burden themselves.)
By 2017, the taxpayers of Tarrant County had burnt $39 million into development of the software.
This week, Texas Scorecard obtained an auditor’s report that showed Dallas County taxpayers had been burnt for at least $24 million invested into TechShare.Court. The following day it was revealed in a conversation between Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, members of the commissioners court, and the head of TechShare projects, that the number is actually around $30 million when you factor in pay for full-time employees assigned to the project.
That’s a grand total of $69 million from taxpayers in Dallas and Tarrant altogether from 2012 to 2017.
In 2018, then candidate, now District 2 Commissioner J.J. Koch found himself in a runoff election in the Republican primary against Vic Cunningham. Cunningham had been endorsed by outgoing District 2 Commissioner Mike Cantrell, who had been one of the three “yes” votes to fund TechShare.Jail, a vote considered controversial at the time because an already functioning software on the open market was available for $9.9 million as opposed to the quoted upfront cost of $24 million.
It was felt at the time that this runoff race could affect the outcome of Dallas County’s involvement with TechShare.Jail and TechShare.Court. That turned out to be the case when, on January 22 of this year, Dallas County Commissioners, in a 4 – 1 vote, refused to pay $1.4 million into the maintenance and operation fund of TechShare.Court because, as Koch discovered while questioning staff involved in the project, the software was still not in operation and thus there was nothing to maintain.
It was during this meeting that Koch singled out Whitley as the “ringleader” of the TechShare.Court and Jail projects, stating he should “pony up his taxpayers dollars” because Dallas’ taxpayers had contributed enough.
Simultaneously, Tarrant County commissioners voted unanimously to burn more than a million more dollars of taxpayer money on TechShare.Court.
There was no debate, discussion, or public comments on the issue at all.
Later, at the February 5, 2019 meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court, Jenkins announced that on the heels of Dallas’ district and county clerks pulling all staff off of implementing TechShare, the CUC and Whitley told the county there would be “consequences” if Dallas County unilaterally withdrew from the TechShare projects still in development.
They were offered the option of a “pause” instead, where Dallas County taxpayers would not contribute any additional money until TechShare.Court was live and the county could decide whether or not it met their expectations. Or, if the softwaremissed its September 31 deadline, Dallas could then make a decision how to proceed.
It should be noted that the CUC was scheduled to make a presentation to the court on the status of TechShare, but they withdrew at the last minute. An act Koch said “spoke volumes.”
Jenkins and the majority of the court agreed to try and move forward with the pause, while simultaneously seeking an “outside consultant” not affiliated with a competitor so as to look at the situation with the software, and advise Dallas accordingly.
It was also announced during this session that the Protective Order Court in Dallas had successfully switched from trying to use TechShare.Court to Odyssey, a software available on the open market. Odyssey was reportedly working with no issues. Meanwhile, minutes of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting regarding TechShare on January 28 revealed there are still “issues to be worked out” and over 200 items yet to be implemented in TechShare.Court.
After all the money poured into TechShare.Court and TechShare.Jail, with nothing to show for it, especially when more affordable and working software is available on the open market, taxpayers should demand an end to this boondoggle. They have lost enough.
Texas Scorecard will continue to keep taxpayers informed on all developments regarding TechShare.Court and TechShare.Jail.
Tarrant County Judge: Glen Whitley
Tarrant Precinct 1 Commissioner: Roy Charles Brooks
Tarrant Precinct 2 Commissioner: Devan Allen
Tarrant Precinct 3 Commissioner: Gary Fickes
Tarrant Precinct 4 Commissioner: J.D. Johnson