Within a 20-minute timespan on Monday, I received two emails whose contrast could not be starker.
The subject of both is the controversial contract between the Clerk’s office and BlueGem Technologies to digitize court records. The contract has been under scrutiny since its signing during the summer.
Clerk of Courts-In-Waiting Scott Ellis sent out a missive that he entitled “Clerk Loots $6.1 Million for Blueware: Hewlett Packard Left Holding the Bag.” In it, he once again calls the BlueGem digitizing contract a “scam” and claims that Hewlett Packard has loaned money to the Clerk’s Office to pay-off the contract.
Shortly after, Clerk of Courts-In-Limbo Mitch Needelman issued a press release that begins, “On Friday, December 07, 2012, a milestone event took place in Brevard County that will change the way the Clerk of Courts does business from now into the future.”
The English teacher in me cries out, “…two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
The contract has raised questions many questions. I am still waiting for the answer to a few of them: Who is working, how much are they being paid, what property/equipment was bought, and what are the contract deliverables?
I have asked the Clerk’s Office, BlueWare/BlueGem, Matt DuPree, the Economic Development Commission, all five county commissioners, and the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce.
None have answered. However, I think I already know the answer. These basic criteria – present in most government contracts – are not written down anywhere.
The contract is basically this: Here’s the money. We don’t care how you get thejob done or how you spend the money, you have to get the job done by 2017. Oh – and if you don’t – we’re covered by insurance that we paid for. So really – we don’t care whether you get the job done or not.
And evidently the terms of the contract have changed from the original one signed this summer.
Incoming Clerk Ellis lays out the wide-ranging and winding road-like scenario this way:
Needelman contracts with BlueWare. Needelman realizes Ellis will cancel the contract and tries to sell it. HP lends money to Needelman – who in turn gives some of the money to BlueWare, buys an insurance bond, and evidently purchases bowling balls (what else does Brunswick Corporation do?).
Also, in October BlueWare chief Rose Harr is given a cushy spot on the Brevard Workforce Board of Directors and then in November is given $760,000 by the same board for job training.
In this scenario, Ellis assumes the motive of Needelman – to keep Ellis from stopping payments to BlueWare and cancelling the contract when he takes office in January 2013.
But there is a problem with assuming the motive: there is no proof. I am sure if Needelman did not write down contract terms and deliverables, he did not write down the terms of a nefarious plot.
As well, I am sure Needleman would say his motive to change the terms of the contract – which went from $8.5 million to $6.1 million - was solely to save taxpayers’ money.
Ellis claims, “Clerks cannot enter into promissory notes and borrow money. Legal opinions will be forthcoming when I get into office.” At the same time, I would be shocked if Needelman didn’t have attorneys who gave him the “okay.”
And so the beat goes on. Taxpayer money is being spent on a noble project, but the taxpayers don’t really know whether their money is being spent legally and efficiently. For government projects, both should be the standard.