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Questions continue on Norwalk no-bid software contract

Norwalk Tax Assessor William Ford, middle top, explains the choice of Quality Data Service to Common Council members at the July 14 Finance Committee meeting. Although the software will also be used by the Tax Collector’s office and Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli was present, Ford did all the talking.

NORWALK, Conn. – The price of software chosen on a “no bid” basis for Norwalk’s revenue generating departments has grown.

An amended contract with Quality Data Services would have increased the one-year $125,000 contract to five years at $147,000 but was withdrawn.

Common Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D), who has sought to inspire public scrutiny for the contract, alerted NancyOnNorwalk to the proposed contract change and its removal from the agenda.

Calling the price “inflated,” Meek said there was no backup information in the packet. He pointed out that the original backup provided by Tax Assessor William Ford for previous meetings was one page and erred on the company’s name, at one point correctly stating it as Quality Data Service but calling it Quality Data Systems at another.

Meek asked about this at the July 26 Council meeting, noting that his “only question” was whether the document should be corrected. At the July 14 Finance Committee meeting, he asked about the discrepancy and if the service would be in a cloud.

“I will suggest people are not doing their jobs,” Meek said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. He also noted that Ford spoke to the Council “from a remote location.”

The efficiency study written by Evergreen Solutions and released early this year criticized Ford for working remotely from another state.

The proposed contract change was on the Council agenda as a “technical correction,” a phrase that often pops up on Council agendas. But in this case, that didn’t fly, according to Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews.

Why was the agenda item there and then removed? Woods Matthews issued this statement:

“The contract was sent back to the Common Council because the Administration believed there was a lack of clarity regarding the length of the contract in the language approved by the Common Council on July 26. The City has a very stringent process for entering contracts that ensures no contract is signed before all the ‘I’s are dotted and ‘T’s are crossed. When this contract came to the Mayor for his signature, it was noted that the total cost of the contract was higher than the amount approved by the Common Council. Instead of signing it, the Mayor sent it back to Mr. Ford for further review, where it was discovered that the Common Council had approved a dollar amount for a one-year contract, rather than a five-year contract as Mr. Ford intended. Mr. Ford then sent the total cost of the 5-year contract to the Common Council for approval, referring to it as a ‘technical amendment,’ but the Mayor noted that this change was too significant to be deemed a ‘technical amendment’ and asked that it be pulled from the agenda. The City will work with the vendor to determine whether to proceed with a one-year contract as previously approved on July 26, or whether a five-year contract is necessary. If a five-year contract is required, the contract will go back to committee to begin the full legislative process over again.”

 

She did not explain the price increase.

As previously reported, Ford has offered many reasons for a no-bid contract. Quality Data Service handles tax software in 159 of 169 Connecticut communities, while Norwalk is the only municipality using Tyler Technologies software, he said. When the State changes its laws, the software lags behind, causing problems. QDS is said to have a much better interface, providing employee efficiency, and is the only company used by Connecticut municipalities with 10,000 or more properties to monitor.

“QDS website shows no corporate officer information, no customer testimonials, nothing,” Meek wrote Monday. “The one-page packet showed basically nothing.  If you did work for 159 out of 169 CT municipalities on public contracts open to full disclosure why not advertise that on your website?.  Their Glassdoor.com reviews shows a company with less than 50 employees and a few mediocre ratings.”

A reliable source said QDS is used by “most” Connecticut tax departments.

“I’ve worked on Financial information systems public and private now for almost 30 years,” Meek wrote Monday. “There is not one single monopoly on any aspect of information technology anywhere on the planet to my knowledge.  While Tyler may not be the right fit and they certainly helped to botch our last revaluation the city is still probably still paying the price for, to lay a claim that there is no other single vendor in existence who can compete on a software contract is beyond absurd.  When I asked Mr. Ford via teleconference to clarify on the scope and deliverables, it was clear to me he had not done his homework.”

 

Coppola ‘removed himself’ from process

NancyOnNorwalk heard a rumor: Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola has done work for Quality Data Service.

Coppola, a partner at the law firm of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., has regularly provided legal representation and services to other municipalities such as the towns of Westport, Trumbull, New Canaan, Madison and Easton, according to a news release issued in 2013, when he was first appointed.

Coppola has since mentioned that he provides services to many Connecticut municipalities.

Woods Matthews issued this statement:

“Quality Data Services (QDS) received this contract because they are the premier software service for tax assessment needs throughout Connecticut. Their software is uniquely qualified to help local governments be more efficient. That’s why over 94% of municipalities in the state use their services.

“Mario Coppola serves as Corporation Counsel for the City of Norwalk part-time and is a partner at Berchem Moses PC. Berchem Moses represents QDS. In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, Mario removed himself from any and all aspects of the procurement process and negotiations on behalf of either party.”