Bartholomew County officials find temporary fix for computer crisis

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. - Bartholomew County Commissioners on Tuesday entered into a short-term contract to make sure somebody will be available to help fix any computer problems affecting county government systems.

But the contract with Sharp Business Systems is only a temporary fix for an urgent problem that has been in the works for more than a year.

Under the contract, the county will pay Sharp $9,800 to cover 144 hours of “help desk” services if county employees need to call for computer help.  An additional $2,500 will be paid to cover 20-hours of on-call work to be performed.

“And then as this goes on, we’ll determine how our IT department needs to change,” said Bartholomew County Commissioner Rick Flohr.  “It may not look like what it’s looked like in the past.”

The move comes after a year of resignations left the IT department with a single employee in the office.  And according to Auditor Barbara Hackman, that employee submitted his resignation Tuesday.  His last day in the office will be Friday.

After that, the county will be completely dependent on outside help to solve any computer problems affecting systems across county government, including the sheriff’s department, emergency dispatch, county courts, payroll and others.

“No one seems to be able to grasp the enormity this department handles on a daily basis,” said County Clerk Jay Phelps.  “How are we going to handle if we have a crisis, if something goes down?  And to be able to take payments, take traffic tickets, take bonds.”

“If the computers go down, you might as well go home,” Hackman said.

Of course, sheriffs deputies and emergency dispatchers can’t simply go home if their computer stops working.  And that scenario has some county employees concerned.

“I think they are a little nervous,” Hackman said.  “I mean I can’t say that they’re not.”

Trouble for the county’s IT department started last August, when the departments longtime director Jim Hartsook left his position for a better-paying job at Columbus Regional Hospital.  Since that time, other employees have followed suit.  Those include the department’s most recent director, Robert Scott Henry, who was only on the job for three days before leaving to take the same position in Johnson County.  Henry cited turmoil and a subversive environment in the Bartholomew County IT Department as part of his reason for leaving, according to Flohr.

Flohr, along with Commissioners Larry Kleinhenz and Carl Lienhoop have taken criticism from some in county government who say the commissioners have shown a lack of leadership on the matter.  Some say the commissioners failed to keep remaining IT department employees from leaving after Hartsook resigned.

For his part, Flohr rejects such criticism.  He points to recent salary increases for administrators and blames the high turnover on employees who have created a hostile environment within the IT department.

“It’s just a bunch of immature, honestly immature, entitled, cry baby young people,” Flohr said.  “And the sad part of it is, they’ve spread hate and discontent all throughout the county government.  A lot of elected officials believe that.”

Bartholomew County currently has five positions budgeted for its IT department for 2017.  The department’s director would have an annual salary between $78,000 and $92,000, depending on the person’s experience and qualifications.  An assistant director would be paid $54,527.  A systems administrator, network administrator and network technician would make $52,017, $41,781 and $35,701 respectively.

Despite the budgeted salaries, there is currently nobody to fill the positions on a full time basis.

Flohr said the commissioners will continue to search for permanent solutions to the problem, calling the temporary contract an effort to “stop the bleeding.”  It’s possible the very structure of the department will change, with a greater emphasis on outsourcing county IT services to private companies like Sharp.  Money currently budgeted for department salaries could eventually be relocated toward more private contracts, with county council approval, Flohr said.