A key contingent of Suffolk County legislators is vowing to fight the Bellone administration's continued effort to fund a multimillion-dollar software upgrade deal with computer giant Microsoft, jeopardizing the project's funding a second year in a row.
The controversial proposal, which proponents say would enable the county to update its aging computer infrastructure, is slated in the latest proposed 2015-17 capital program for a $892,915 appropriation this year, another $900,000 next year and $1.8 million to be spent after 2017.
Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) have voiced doubts or outright opposition to the project's funding ahead of budget talks next week.
Kennedy said he doubted any of the six Republicans would support the deal. Twelve votes -- two-thirds of the 18-member legislature -- would be needed to approve the bonding that would fund the proposal.
Browning, a member of the capital projects working group who last year voted against both the project itself and its bond funding, said she would again look to the county's budget advisers, but did not believe anything had changed to sway her. "The question remains, is this something we absolutely need when the county executive has been laying people off and making cuts left, right and center?" she said.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said money has been set aside for the proposal but no agreement has been finalized. Information Technology Department staff are working to assess the county's needs with the ultimate expectation of an eventual Microsoft deal, he said.
Schneider argued upgrades would be needed at some point. "Every company and government in the world ought to want to invest in software . . . With the right investments in technology, we believe our 9,000 staff are better placed to do more with less," he said.
Kennedy said proponents had been unable to articulate real and measurable benefits for taxpayers. "It's something that ultimately lends very little to the people who pay for it: our taxpayers. Where's the beef? There's none to be found here," he said.
The latest effort to get the legislature to budget the agreement comes as documents obtained by Newsday show IT Commissioner Donald Rodgers before the legislature last year denied having signed any agreements in connection with the proposed $5-million Microsoft/Dell deal.
A grand jury subpoena was served on the legislature Feb. 19 seeking records and testimony surrounding Rodgers' hiring and the proposed Microsoft software deal. Rodgers and his attorney, Alan Abramson, have declined to comment on the subpoena.
Last spring, when the proposed Microsoft deal was being hotly debated -- first before the education and IT committee and then on June 18 before the legislature's general meeting -- Rodgers and his boss, deputy county executive Tom Melito were forceful advocates.
Legislators raised doubts over whether the project was needed at all after a highly critical report from the independent Budget Review Office in May concluded the project should be omitted from last year's program altogether. "When asked what the downside to the department would be if this project was not implemented, the [IT] commissioner answered that there would be none and that everything would remain in place for another year," the report said.
Shortly before legislators were to vote -- toward the end of more than an hour's questioning by them -- Kennedy sought reassurance that no agreements had been entered into on behalf of the county.
"Has anybody, anybody in the administration at this point, signed any agreement with Microsoft regarding this [project], at this point?" Kennedy said.
Rodgers spoke up: "We are not committed at this point."
Kennedy asked again: "Has anybody in the administration signed anything with Microsoft reflecting that we're bound, committed, obligated, or going to go through with this?"
In fact, Rodgers had signed a March 29 "letter of intent" addressed to Dell Corp. in Round Rock, Texas, stating the county wished to enter into a deal in which the company would help update Suffolk's software. The letter stated the county would pay the company $1,454,568.27 in the first year of the contract.
By April 22, Dell had supplied and invoiced for that amount, according to a copy of the invoice Newsday obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Dell's accounts branch was still seeking payment of the amount in full as recently as Dec. 10, records show.
On May 1, IT staff emailed Melito asking for guidance about how to deal with the contract. "Since this project has not been completely approved, nor has it been entered into the county's IFMS [accounting] system, we cannot process, nor receive any goods and services until it has been procured through the County's approval cycle," the email said.
Newsday has sought Melito's response to the email but has yet to receive it.
Gregory said he found it "extremely alarming" that a $1.45 million invoice was created months prior to any legislative approval for the deal.
As to any future deal, he said he still needed to be convinced there was a need for all employees to have an updated operating platform -- "or does the county have what it needs for now?"
The Microsoft/Dell proposal passed in the legislature 11-7 last June but failed to get enough votes to be funded.
Kennedy this week declined to respond to the series of documents illustrating Rodger's actions, citing the ongoing grand jury investigation.
Asked last week if he had complete confidence in Rodgers, County Executive Steve Bellone said, "In light of everything that's going on, I'm going to reserve comment given -- obviously -- the investigation that's going on."