Final IT staff member resigns

And then, there were none.

The last remaining employee of the once five-member Bartholomew County’s Information Technology department has submitted his resignation, county commissioners chairman Rick Flohr confirmed.

Sonny Mitchell, whose last day is today, will become the eighth county IT specialist to resign during the past 14 months, including three department directors.

While the main issue appears to be low salaries in comparison with the private sector, county officials have also cited a lack of leadership since the departure of longtime IT director Jim Hartsook 14 months ago.

Two elected office holders — county clerk Jay Phelps and county auditor Barb Hackman — said computer problems have the potential of completely shutting down their respective offices.

There’s also concern that hackers could create a public safety issue for law enforcement, as well as incapacitate the courts, Phelps said.

However, Flohr said he believes the situation has been temporarily brought under control after the commissioners contracted out certain IT services with Sharp Business Systems on Monday.

The county has agreed to 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. Those amounts are projected to cover the county’s IT needs for a two-month period, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

But Sharp IT specialist Danny Harmon, who had worked with Hartsook and is familiar with the county’s computer system, will be part of the team assisting the county, Flohr said.

“With 38 years experience, that guy is awesome,” Flohr said after meeting Harmon this week. “He told me he ran a temporary IT department for a county for four years when they went through turmoil.”

Harmon is also working to secure a second temporary IT specialist to assist him, and has expressed a willingness to cooperate with a second company — Data Strategy of Indianapolis — to maintain programs involving virtual landscapes, Flohr said.

The commissioners are hoping to temporarily secure the services of Data Strategies employee Jen Slabaugh, a former county IT specialist, Flohr said, which would increase the county’s costs further.

“This isn’t very cost-effective,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said after two contracts with Sharp were approved Monday. “When you add it all up, we’re paying about $120,000 a year for a technician.”

In contrast, this year’s salaries for the county’s IT specialists who were not department heads ranged between $42,000 and $55,000.

While Kleinhenz described the contracts with Sharp as “initial stop gap measures,” Flohr said the county may eventually have a blend of in-house IT specialists and contractors.

In an interview with an Indianapolis television station, Flohr blamed the high turnover on the IT employees themselves, describing them as “a bunch of immature, entitled, cry-baby, young people.”

Insisting his criticism was not aimed at all young adults, Flohr explained that the former IT workers who displayed extreme loyalty to Hartsook were uncooperative with both of his successors.

The latest IT director, who left after only three days on the job, complained about the negativity among the staff immediately after meeting them, Flohr said.

“They felt like they had a sense of entitlement, but the truth was that they couldn’t keep things going after Jim left,” said Flohr, who added a number of county employees later heard the IT specialists openly complain that the commissioners did not support them.

“That’s not true,” Flohr said. “We didn’t start this mess, but we’re going to fix it.”

The Bartholomew County Council was informed of Mitchell’s departure during a Wednesday work session, where two other developments regarding the 2017 budget were made.

Contrary to information circulated last week, the council cannot start designating how local income tax funds can be spent until 2018, county auditor Barb Hackman said.

That means the council did not yet have the authority to vote last week to place $700,000 in local income taxes traditionally controlled by the commissioners into the county’s general fund.

However, Flohr said he informed the council Tuesday the commissioners will provide the same amount into the fund and designate public safety as its purpose.

The action provides the council with a $19.34 million general fund budget in 2017 without running a deficit.

Pull Quote

“We didn’t start this (IT) mess, but we’re going to fix it.”

— Commissioners chairperson Rick Flohr

Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.