Wednesday, May 26, 2010
County balks at $1.7 million IT deal with Wayne
Computer center in Plymouth put on hold
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
Macomb County officials have abruptly backed away from a $1.7 million deal with Wayne County to jointly create a high-tech data storage center, after numerous questions were raised about the true cost of the project.
A plan tentatively approved in February to enter into a six-year agreement to share a data center for computer services with Wayne County called for a private company to run a site in Plymouth. All of county government's computer servers would be transferred to the new facility. Final approval was slated for Thursday by the Board of Commissioners until an internal memo surfaced.
The Monday memo questioned the cost of a "hosting" fee for Wayne County, the savings projected by eliminating three jobs in the Macomb County Information Technology Department, and other costs associated with technicians avoiding a two-hour round trip to Plymouth when problems arose.
Within hours after the memo surfaced, a Tuesday press conference at the data center featuring county board Chairman Paul Gieleghem and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano was suddenly canceled. On Wednesday, Cyntia Zerkowski, director of Macomb's IT Department and architect of the agreement, unexpectedly announced that she was stepping down, with a November retirement planned.
The commissioner who wrote the six-page memo, Jeff Sprys, a Macomb Township Democrat, said he is not interested in pointing fingers or punishing individuals.
"The issue here is whether or not … this is a good deal for Macomb County, whether it's in our best interests over the long term," said Sprys, a freshman commissioner. "I … wouldn't say that commissioners were misled. With the way this was presented over the last sev
eral months, I would say we're dealing with issues of neglect."
The plan to move Macomb County's data center, thousands of pounds of computer servers and telecommunications storage equipment, to Plymouth was first proposed by Zerkowski in February. Commissioners were told the county would gain a state-of-the-art facility that would be much cheaper than making $1.2 million in upgrades to Macomb's aging computer station.
Critics said the documentation for numerous cost/savings figures was shaky. But the plan was moved forward by a 17-9 vote of the commissioners.
Zerkowski could not be reached for comment.
Gieleghem, an avid proponent of the project earlier this year, said that he still believes in the collaboration and data sharing that would come with the plan, but dubious commissioners must be convinced. He laid that burden at the feet of Zerkowski.
"This is a plan that I believe will save money. This is the direction that all local governments should be going — doing more with less, coordinating and working together," said the Clinton Township Democrat.
Gieleghem added that the inter-governmental agreement with Wayne will be removed from Thursday's agenda for the May full board meeting.
"Clearly, there are a lot of questions and we want to make sure that everybody's comfortable with this agreement," he said. "We … have a difference of opinion on this. And we need to all understand this agreement better. It's technical."
Earlier this month, Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, along with her deputy Todd Schmitz, posed questions about e-mail service that began to raise doubts about the deal.
Former IT Department project manager Norman Gilmore, who recently retired in frustration, came forward to tell the board that high-ranking technicians within the department were never consulted about the Wayne County project. Gilmore also said that an ongoing project to consolidate the county's 120 computer servers would partially eliminate the projected savings attached to the Wayne data center.
Over time, commissioners started to learn that the deal included up-front charges, a yearly fee, and up to $12,000 per month for the fiber cable that would send data back to county facilities in the Mount Clemens area. In addition, Sprys noted that nearly half of the savings from the three-worker reduction would be plowed back into the IT Department, not credited toward the data center project.
Attempts by the new county Finance Director, Gilbert Chang, to satisfy the commissioners' concerns had limited success. Sprys' memo argued that the plan would save the county about $40,000 a year, at most, compared to upgrading Macomb's data center.
What's more, Sprys noted that the county Emergency Management Department recently received $900,000 in grants for new equipment that could contribute toward many of the same needs as those of the outdated data center: a generator, an improved fire suppression system, air conditioning units and a battery backup system.
Commissioner Frank Accavitti, chairman of the board's Technology and Communications Committee, said he's disturbed by some of the harsh criticism directed at the IT Department and himself. A consultant who does lobbying work on the side, Accavitti said the technology company that runs the data center, 24-Secure Inc., was never a client of his firm.
But Accavitti, a former state representative who specialized in telecommunications issues in the House, called Secure-24 a "great company." Commissioners will soon realize, he added, that the agreement is a good deal.
As for the Plymouth site, he said: "It's the most amazing data center I've ever seen. It puts the state's data center to shame. It truly does.