With Orange County Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom leaving at the end of this month to take an elective post in Sonoma County, supervisors here are worried that a costly software upgrade to the county's property tax system — already over budget and behind schedule — could go off the rails.
In recent years, county supervisors have expressed numerous concerns over delays in implementation of the new system, which is budgeted at more than $25 million.
Just last month, Sundstrom told supervisors that the upgrades wouldn't be ready for this year's tax roll because an India-based subcontractor named the Tata Group had fallen behind.
Sundstrom also told supervisors he would closely monitor implementation of the process.
Sundstrom's departure and the retirement of Board of Supervisors Clerk Darlene Bloom leaves a relative newcomer — Shari Freidenrich, who was elected Treasurer-Tax Collector in November 2010 — as the most senior official overseeing the software upgrade, called PTMS.
"I think everybody — the board, myself as CEO and CEO IT — is very concerned about the PTMS hand off," said county CEO Tom Mauk.
"Now that we're going to change leaders, the question is what should the leadership model look like. Should we leave it the way it is, bring in an outside manager or let CEO IT do it, Mauk said.
Under the county charter, supervisors do not have the authority to hold a special election to fill the remainder of Sundstrom's term. Instead they will appoint an official to complete the term, as they appointed Sandra Hutchens sheriff in 2008.
County supervisors, however, won't use a recruiting firm as they did with the sheriff's position. Mauk said that a panel will likely be formed to interview candidates.
Supervisor Pat Bates said this month she wants some computer specialists on the panel to make sure the next candidate can handle the PTMS issue.
"I think we need a discussion on that panel," Bates said.
However, Supervisor Bill Campbell warned Bates that because of the unique nature of the PTMS software upgrade, "we're not going to find many people out there that have implemented a PTMS program in the world."
That prompted Bates to fire back: "Let's talk about Tata. … We've been to India and back. … We better get somebody in here who really knows."
That has prompted board Chairman John Moorlach to suggest that the county may want its own CEO for IT to figure more prominently in the PTMS upgrade.
Moorlach added that supervisors felt burned by the outsourced work of its Indian contractor, noting that "we were told Tata was really great."
Moorlach noted that with the county losing Sundstrom, its main internal expert on the program, "that does create a quandary."
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.