A Taxing Problem

Why are two candidates for assessor trying to take credit for a computer system that has been an abysmal failure?

Easy Access' contract called for the project to be completed in 1998 at a total cost to the city of $3.3 million, which included $1.1 million for Easy Access. But only 40 percent of the project was ever finished, and the budget ballooned to more than $5 million. By 2000, when Ward declared the failed project a success, the city had paid the company's fee in full for doing less than half of what it was contracted to do.

Last year, KPMG Consulting Inc. concluded that the Assessor-Recorder's Office is "still coping with the major cultural change created by the newly implemented E-Z system, yet staffed with employees willing to explore improvement ideas." In plain English, the poor data entry clerks are still trying to figure out how to make the system work.

In an interview, Farrell admitted the E-Z Access software "did not do what we wanted it to do." He acknowledged that the property tax system could have been integrated with Microsoft programs at a vastly cheaper price. He said that Easy Access was "not the best vendor."

Nevertheless, Farrell insisted on turning a sow's ear into a campaign silk purse. He took credit for "running with the ball and designing the whole system out of my head." He said any problems with the project were the fault of Ward and the tax collector. He said he never complained or spoke about the problems with E-Z Access because "it was not my place to do that."

The entrepreneurial Hamer, whose newest venture is selling wireless voter-registration software to county election departments, declined to return repeated telephone calls requesting comment. Hamer is still on the assessor's payroll, according to Farrell. Despite everything, Ward has signed Easy Access to a $25,000-a-year contract to "maintain" its problematic product.

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