Police Union Demands Audit of Oakland, Calif., Technology Department

In a Feb. 3 letter to the city auditor, Sgt. Barry Donelan accused the department of costing taxpayers millions of dollars by mishandling a project to upgrade the city's Oracle-made software suite.

by Matthew Artz, Contra Costa Times / February 9, 2015

(TNS) -- The head of Oakland's police union is demanding an audit of the city's technology office, which he accuses of bungling a multimillion-dollar software upgrade and consequently threatening the police department's bid to get out from under federal oversight.

In a Feb. 3 letter to City Auditor Brenda Roberts, Sgt. Barry Donelan accused the Department of Information Technology of costing taxpayers millions of dollars by mishandling a project to upgrade the city's Oracle-made software suite that handles numerous functions including payroll and budgeting. The still uncompleted project, he wrote, has left Oakland with a system that "remains unchanged, unsupported and in danger of collapse."

The state of Oakland's Oracle Enterprise Business Suite is of special concern to the police union because the consulting firm that was handling that project also had been tapped to manage the rollout of a computer system to help police brass identify officers who could be at risk of disciplinary problems.

The completion of the far less complex project, known as iPass2, is one of the final requirements before Oakland police can emerge from over a decade of federal oversight stemming from the 2000 Riders police brutality scandal.

With city IT officials and the vendor Sierra-Cedar at loggerheads over the Oracle project, parties to the police reform effort were stunned to learn recently that Oakland's technology department had decided to bring aboard more staffers and manage the iPass2 project in-house.

"I was very alarmed," said attorney Jim Chanin, who represented victims in the Riders case. "IT has proved that they can't get it done. We don't have time to try that again." Chanin said Sierra-Cedar, which until last year had been known as Sierra Systems, had already done preliminary work on the police project and performed well.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city on Thursday was able to bring Sierra-Cedar back on board for iPass2, although she and city officials did not release details of the agreement. City leaders also did not explain why they terminated Sierra-Cedar's contract for the Oracle project or detail why the software update is unfinished and behind schedule.

Schaaf acknowledged that the city's split with Sierra-Cedar was a setback for the project that had been scheduled for completion last November.

"Clearly the fact that we had to terminate a contract means that there was not the best utilization of resources," she said. "And it is unfortunate that we are going to have to expend time if not money to resolve the exit of an unsuccessful contract."

City records show that Sierra-Cedar was to be paid $3.3 million for the Oracle software upgrade. Oakland officials were unable Friday to say how much money the company had received.

Sierra-Cedar executives could not be reached for comment.

The police union has been upset with city IT managers for several years, primarily over the city's police radio system, which has failed officers many times including during a 2012 visit by President Obama.

In his letter, Donelan also accused the IT department of attempting "to thwart the directive of the City Council" to scrap Oakland's radio system and join a consortium of East Bay public safety agencies.

Oakland's Chief Information Officer Bryan Sastokas wrote in a statement that his department would welcome an audit and that it was moving forward on the radio issue. He also wrote that a project of the complexity of the Oracle upgrade typically takes up to two years -- Oakland is on month 11 -- and between $12 million and $34 million.

Records show that the City Council in 2013 authorized $3.95 million for the Oracle upgrade, which was considered a high-priority project because Oracle was scheduled to stop servicing Oakland's version of the software at the end of last year. Sastokas wrote that Oracle has since extended its deadline to the end of this year.

The Council approved an extra $350,000 for the project last June and another $1.3 million in November after city staffers warned of unanticipated delays and "hardware needs." Of the additional $1.3 million, $462,000 was slated to go to Sierra.

The Oracle system historically has had issues for Oakland. City workers complained of bugs when it was put in place more than 15 years ago.

"The system used to always break down," said Councilman Larry Reid, who opposed the original Oracle contract in 1998. "To this date, I don't know why we've used it other than that we've spent so much money on it over the years."

Roberts, the city auditor, did not return phone calls Friday. Several officials said an audit would be useful, although recently departed interim City Administrator Henry Gardner noted that the IT department has been understaffed for years. "That department was really devastated during the recession," he said. "That is a key part of this issue."

©2015 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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