Montgomery County Treasurer Davenport fails to address upcoming ERP spending debacle

January 18, 2018, Montgomery County Eagle Forum candidate debate: Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport (right) and Conroe ISD Board President Melanie Pryor Bush (left).

Conroe, January 21 – With the Montgomery County government planning to spend between sixteen and twenty-five million dollars ($16-25 million!!!) on an Enterprise Resource Planning (“ERP”) system, one might hope that the Montgomery County Treasurer, Stephanne Davenport, who is one of the two people overseeing the project, might have some idea of its actual cost and its benefit, if any, to County taxpayers. Shockingly, she doesn’t have any idea and certainly won’t lower herself to the level of the plebeian citizens to discuss the ERP system.

During the Thursday, January 18, 2018, candidate forum, which the Montgomery County Eagle Forum sponsored, the Publisher of The Golden Hammer asked, “To both candidates [Davenport and her challenger in the Republican Primary Election, Melanie Pryor Bush], how much do you anticipate the Enterprise Resource Planning system will cost and what will be the financial benefit in dollars that you anticipate for the County’s taxpayers?”

Davenport responded with an attempt to shroud the massive expenditure in secrecy, “I can’t give a lot of detail. By statute, we can’t discuss vendor negotiations until a contract is awarded. We fall short in technolgoy. My department has implemented processes to shorten the time to do the payroll. We do an annual payroll workshop. It’s constantly looking at ways to innovate.” Sadly, Davenport didn’t even come close to answering the question and instead tried to blame the law for her secrecy. (Her legal excuse was total bunk.)

Davenport’s opponent, Melanie Pryor Bush, is not a part of the Montgomery County government yet, so she is a victim of Davenport’s secrecy as are all citizens of this community. Nevertheless, Bush answered, “I’ve heard. We won’t know the cost until they tell us. They’re in the process to build out space next to the County Attorney’s Office to house the implementation team. They’re estimating 26 months to implement the system, when in other counties the implementation takes longer than that. They haven’t factored in the staff time for implementation into costs.”

Obviously, neither Davenport nor Bush anwered the question. With an expenditure as massive as the proposed ERP, citizens ought to expect that Davenport would know an estimate cost and the precise financial benefit to the purchase of the system to the taxpayers.

At the May 9, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, County Auditor Phyllis Martin and a consultant who received over $149,000 for a completely worthless collection of euphemisms which Martin and the consultant called a “report,” provided an “update” about the Enterprise Resource Planning system they and Doyal propose for the Montgomery County government.

ERPs are often utilized in business enterprises – ones seeking “profits” unlike the government which just spends – to bring together different financial functions, such as payroll, contracting, purchasing, and insurance, so that the various users of such information are able to communicate with each other online easily.

The Golden Hammer spoke with Mark Ward, a renowned business and technical consultant from the Tampa, Florida, area, who reviewed the ERP presentation of the County as well as its operations and budget and provided this newspaper with two major conclusions. First, Ward noted that a governmental entity should only implement an ERP “if it can reduce employee staffing needs by 10% or more.” Second, Ward estimated that the high end of an ERP’s annual cost for use by an approximately 2300 employee County government should be in the range of $90,000 per year for licensing fees with no up-front costs other than ensuring network compatibility (such as implementing a Windows or other appropriate operating system).

Unfortunately, with the out of touch bureaucrats – Davenport and County Auditor Martin – studying the County’s proposed ERP and with Plante Moran, a consulting firm greatly profiting from making the process of purchasing an ERP as complex as possible to gin more consulting fees, the cost estimates which Martin provided the Commissioners Court were through the stratosphere. There are no estimates whatsoever of any financial benefits to the taxpayers.

Martin and Plante Moran estimated that the up-front costs of purchasing an ERP for the County would be between $6 and 10 million with licensing fees costing the County between $10 and 15 million over the next 20 years!

Despite all of that money Doyal, Riley, and Martin want the County to shell out, Martin admitted that there would be no savings whatsoever in the number of employee salaries necessary in the County government. Therefore, Ward’s first goal for an ERP will fail. Second, the cost of this ERP system will be approximately 8 times the annual cost it should be as well as an infinite times the startup cost (which should be 0). Finally, as crazy as this proposal seems, it’s even worse. Martin told the Commissioners Court that it will take over 2 years to implement the system!

Bush has made clear that the 2-year estimate is far too aggressive.

Davenport and her secretive ways once again are preventing the citizens of Montgomery County from overseeing one of the largest single expenditures in the history of the Montgomery County government.

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