It might be a sweetheart deal for Team Ray Technologies, the Bellevue company that provides software and computer support for courts in Sandusky County.
A worthy effort, apparently, Team Ray's Rockware Justice programming service was started some time in 2004 after then-county clerk of courts Warren Brown sought guidance from the Sandusky County prosecutor's office, which told him court services software could be exempted from competitive bid requirements.
"Team Ray was a local firm that was able to write the software in a non-proprietary fashion," Brown told the Register, citing the exemption for products or services that can't be purchased in the free market.
But that seems oxymoronic.
Team Ray used unrestricted, trade name-free programming to build a custom system for the county. The plan was to break "the golden handcuffs" other software companies had in the marketplace and give the county ownership.
Company president and CEO Ryan Ray called it a "joint venture" with Brown and a "pet project" they had together. Brown called that description on the Team Ray/Rockware Justice website, "nothing more than marketing verbiage."
In the years since, however, Brown appears to have married the county's adminisrative court services to Team Ray, with potentially little or no oversight over taxpayer dollars and exempt from cost comparisons by way of a competitive bid.
"It was imperative that the coding format be written so most programmers with a skillset in dot net and sequel could assist in writing fixes or additional packages/add-ons," Brown said, seeming to contradict his own reasoning.
The software is so user-friendly practically anyone with a basic programming skillset can use it and optimize it, yet only Team Ray controls it. Only Team Ray can invoice for it. The outcome proved to be just another set of handfuffs, only this pair might be tighter on taxpayers, and sweeter for Team Ray.
— MAKES NO SENSE
It seems questionable, too, the exemption from competitive bid, which assistant county Prosecutor Norman Solze briefly described in a March 25 email to Overmyer, is necessarily applicable.
But even if it does apply, it wouldn't appear to further exempt Team Ray from needing a valid contract with the county. A contract defines the scope of services and costs, and also establishes the expectations of both parties
Team Ray's been paid $324,000 since September 2010, but Brown and other county officials have been unable to locate a contract or document with clear detail of what the payments bought.
"I do not have any paperwork in my possession that is related to this matter," Brown, the county administrator who is a candidate in the May primary for the county auditor seat, told the Register March 31.
The current clerk of courts, Tracy Overmyer, said Brown provided the contract.
"You received a copy of the contract that Warren Brown initiated," she told the Register Tuesday, complaining that articles in the Register have not been accurate.
Not so, said Brown.
"I have stated previously that I have no paperwork on the Team Ray software matter in my possession," he said Friday.
— SHE SAID, HE SAID, HE SAID, HE SAID
Overmyer suggested court administrator Brock Kimmet fulfilled some functions related to Team Ray. But Kimmet dodged the topic whether any contracts exist, or if the county has any diagram or understanding what it's buying from Team Ray.
"I do not know what they consist of," Kimmet said. "That process had already been initiated prior to my arrival."
"I've answered the questions I'm going to answer," Overmyer said, referring the entire matter to assistant county Prosecutor Norman Solze, who "had reviewed the contract and everything" related to it.
But whether by super-secret gag order from visiting Judge Dale Crawford, or not, Solze intends to keep his lips sealed.
"I have no other comment concerning Rockware Justice and Team Ray than previously provided," Solze told the Register Friday.
For his part, Judge Crawford said he respected the media, mostly, except maybe the Register, in recent comments that included his endorsement of Team Ray.
"If any elected county official made a mistake, let me tell you something, it wasn't because, and I know these people and I've checked into this stuff. It's not because they did it on purpose," Crawford said.
Note: This editorial blog has been changed to correct the reference to Warren Brown seeking elected office as a candidate in the May primary for county auditor.