As with most reports that emanate from the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury, the one the panel dropped June 10 regarding the county’s development and somewhat disastrous implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is an exercise in blame.

But hell, so is this column: Witness my clever use of the word disastrous above.

Or witness the subhead the grand jury used: Costly Lessons from a Decade-Long Systems Enhancement Effort.

The county first began discussing an upgraded business processes system in 2007, and after several years of planning, implemented the first version of the system in 2009-2010, and an updated version in 2018.

It was about that time that County Supervisor Luis Alejo, who hadn’t been on the board during the planning phase or the implementation, but by 2018 had been there long enough to know which end is up, had some questions. Like, for example, why the cost of a financial management and software system initially estimated at $4.3 million had swelled to $27 million and counting. In the end, the grand jury reported the system had cost $37 million, approved by the Board of Supervisors, and $3.6 million on legal and consulting fees and staff time allocated to the project but not budgeted for it. As the grand jury put it, the implementations were “inefficient and unnecessarily costly,” thanks to a number of things. The implementation suffered from inconsistent management, with the project manager’s seat changing five times in less than three years. When the first version was implemented, a lack of documentation on some payroll practices resulted in employees being paid incorrectly.

And then there’s this jaw-dropper: “senior county management” (who aren’t identified in the grand jury report, but I’m pretty sure they’re referring to the county Auditor-Controller’s Office, which was in charge of the implementation) “knowingly” launched the first payroll system with overtime calculations that didn’t match contractual bargaining unit agreements. To put it in plainer language than the report, someone in charge knew the information was wrong, they used it anyway and it resulted in lawsuits, grievances, fines and financial penalties.

During the first 11 months after the payroll system launched in 2010, about 25 percent of the county’s bargaining unit employees – 1,383 in all – received paychecks that were different than prior to the implementation. The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association filed grievances against the county, as did the SEIU.

Total cost of the fees, fines and penalties resulting from those successful grievances: $378,000.

County Supervisor Jane Parker testified before the grand jury, the only supervisor who’s been on the board since the ERP project was conceived and implemented. She hasn’t read the full report yet, but her chief of staff, Kristi Markey, has; she conveyed to Parker her sense that the grand jury looked deeply into all of the issues that contributed to the problems.

“My hope is that through the report we can manage not to have this set of circumstances happen again,” Parker says.

The report doesn’t let the Board of Supervisors off the hook. Under its recommendations, when the county implements its next ERP system (in two to four years, yikes, because that’s how long this kind of software lasts) the grand jury says the supes need to hold senior county management more accountable for keeping them updated, and needs to assign ownership of the implementation to the County Administrative Officer.

Agencies and elected officials normally issue a response to a grand jury report some time after the initial report drops. Elected officials such as the auditor have 60 days to respond, while the county has 90 days.

County auditor/controller Rupa Shah, the elected official responsible for, among other things, providing budget control and financial services to the county, declined to comment because she is still reviewing the report. Her eventual written response will probably be worth the wait.

MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at mary@mcweekly.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan
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