Year after purchase, glitches still plague computer system NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

April 28, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Anyone who has worked with any computer, anywhere, can tell you that, at times, computers can be a pain.

But anyone who works with computers in the Manchester Town Hall can tell you they definitely are a pain.

In May 1992, the town bought a $16,014 package of a computer and some terminals, software and peripheral equipment from Municipal Services Group of Hampstead.

A year has passed, and Manchester Town Manager Terry Short says the town is still having problems with the computer system.

The town is asking for a partial refund and for some software to be changed.

And questions linger over the ethics of the 1992 purchase, which was never put out for competitive bid.

Paul A. Cross, president of Municipal Services Group, said Monday that he has been waiting for a meeting with the town administration that has been postponed twice, and has not yet been rescheduled.

"As soon as we have a meeting, the whole thing will be resolved," he said, declining to comment further.

According to town records, the computer system has been plagued with printing problems and other software difficulties.

Also, records indicate, Manchester contracted for a 10-user networking program, but a five-user program was installed.

In a March 25 letter from Mr. Short to Mr. Cross, Mr. Short said Manchester's mayor and the Town Council had instructed him, at the March 24 council meeting, to ask for a refund of $2,640.

Mr. Short said he also was instructed to ask Municipal Services Group install a 10-user version of the networking program called Novell 3.11. He also asked for the relevant manuals and software disks.

Mr. Cross responded with a March 29 letter asking for a meeting with the mayor and council to discuss the situation.

Mr. Short wrote to Mr. Cross again March 31, repeating his request for a refund and for the installation of the 10-user system.

The town's 1992 purchase included a Town Manager software package to help the town with its accounting, utility bills and similar chores.

Mr. Cross said Monday he is the sole proprietor of that software in this area.

Councilman John A. Riley said, "It's not a shelf item. . . . You can't go to Wal-Mart or Kmart and buy it."

However, the town also bought a central computer, some work stations and a monitor, in addition to the software.

David Warner, who was projects administrator for Manchester at the time of the purchase, said the town wanted to buy its computers, its software and its service contracts all from one dealer.

"I wanted to deal with one person," he said. "I don't want to have to go through four people to solve a problem."

He said the town had been working with Municipal Services Group staff (formerly under the name Basically Computers) since the early 1980s and was pleased with their performance.

"The service was outstanding," Mr. Warner said. If there was a problem, he said, there was usually someone out within hours to fix it.

Warner said the town had "a very pressing need for an upgrade" of its computer system last year.

Manchester's computers weren't networked then, he said, and only one was hooked up to a laser printer. He said the Manchester police department did not have a computer.

Mr. Warner said the town administration was aware that the Municipal Services Group was the only company in the area that could meet all the town's needs for software, service and hardware.

He said it would have cost several hundred dollars to put the contract out to bid, and the council knew that only one firm could meet its needs.

Councilman Geoffrey S. Black said Monday that last year, he voiced concern about whether the purchase should be put out for bid. He said there was disagreement then about whether the computer purchase was a sole-source situation.

He said because there were no competitive bids, the town might not have gotten the best price. With a competitive bid, Mr. Black said, "You stand to save some dollars, because you're not a captive audience."

Town Attorney Charles O. Fisher Jr. said Monday that although the Manchester code generally requires a contract of $5,000 or more to be submitted to competitive bid, there are "a number of exceptions" to that rule.

He said he was not involved in the Manchester computer contract and could not comment on the procedure the town followed.

Another question related to the competitive-bid issue is whether any conflict of interest was created by giving the contract to Municipal Services Group, which rents office space from the town of Hampstead.

Councilman John A. Riley is town manager of Hampstead as well as a Town Council member in Manchester.

Mr. Riley said April 2 that there was no conflict of interest.

"I don't know what it would be," he said. "I wasn't the one who bought the software. It was a council decision."

Mr. Warner said the chance of a conflict of interest was "remote," because there was no opportunity for anyone on the council to gain personally from the contract.

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