Is there a project manager to fire?

Story by Chris Graham

Much has been made of the issues that led to the scrapping of a city-government revenue-management software system in Staunton.

Insiders in City Hall have laid the blame squarely at the feet of Ray Ergenbright, the incumbent commissioner of revenue. Ergenbright’s opponent in today’s election, Maggie Ragon, has gone so far as to refer euphemistically to Ergenbright as the “project manager” for the failed effort – and to say that Ergenbright’s inability to bring the project to completion is grounds for voters to seek a change in the office.

Ergenbright, for his part, said he agrees “wholeheartedly” with Ragon’s assessment that the manager of the software-development project should be fired.

“But I was not the manager of that project,” Ergenbright said during a candidates forum sponsored by the Newtown Neighborhood Association last week.

“I disagreed with the purchase of the system. It cost the city a lot of money. It should not have cost the city a lot of money. It was a poor system. It was a poor management process. That’s why we are where we are today,” Ergenbright said.

The city’s chief technology officer, Kurt Plowman, who is a business partner of Ragon, said Ergenbright has overstated his case that he opposed the purchase of the system that eventually had to be put to the side.

“The real reason that he’s gotten the blame is not for selecting the software, because we were all involved in that. That’s a moot point. The problem came that he was not a cooperative part of the team to get the data loaded and verified and validated into the system,” Plowman told The Augusta Free Press.

Plowman said Ergenbright resisted making the data that needed to be inputted into the revenue-management system available.

“And the data that he did provide to us was flawed. It was not complete. It was in the wrong format. We started having issues with data pretty much off the first load,” Plowman said.

Ergenbright cited in a recent interview with the AFP that it was his concern over the protection of confidential taxpayer data by Plowman’s office that was the reason that he didn’t turn information over. That concern has been allayed, Ergenbright said, with the implementation of a new revenue-management system – which is being done with only minimal input from the city technology office.

Ergenbright and Plowman do appear to agree on one point – that there was no “project manager,” per se, as Ragon and others have tried to say that there is in the course of the 2005 campaign.

“I was one of four people that made a decision and had input on how this process should work,” Ergenbright said.

“There were actually three project managers. There was Elnora (Hazlett, the incumbent city treasurer), there was Ray, and there was me, appointed by Bob Stripling to look out for the best interests of the city,” Plowman said.

“If we were in any other company where there’s a CEO, the three of us would have been brought around a table, since we would all work for him, and he would have said, ‘You either get this to work, or you’re all fired.’ That’s typical what’s in most companies. You either get the project out, or somebody’s gone. Here you’ve got three people all reporting basically to three different people. Nobody has authority over anybody else,” Plowman said.

“A project manager would have some sort of leverage over people working on the project. Nobody had that authority. There were basically three project managers working on this, each having the responsibility for looking out for their own best interests,” Plowman said.



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