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Much apologies for the writing drought and thanks to all who have inquired about where I’ve been. We’ve got some tremendous initiatives underway here that I think everyone will like. We just need to get them done before the end of the year (and before I lose my mind).

The biggest deal, of course, is the website itself. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for a redesigned and retooled site. This will be our third major redesign and I’ve learned a lot since 2006. The most important thing is not to change your experience too much. So I’m hoping you’ll see a familiar, but nicer, cleaner site with a lot more tools and options.

Thanks for your patience.

That said, we have some things to talk about:

  • Wild ERP Makes News Again
    You may remember my long piece (and follow up posts) about the city’s effort to upgrade its entire IT infrastructure. It’s a massive undertaking — known as an Enterprise Resource Planning initiative and dubbed One SD here — that has been delayed while costs piled up.

    One of the reasons it was supposedly delayed was because of what the city claimed were “serious concerns” about the ability of a contractor they had hired — Axon Inc. — to help deliver the project to completion. The city fired Axon and hired the software company itself — SAP — at a much higher cost, to finish implementation.

    SAP’s reputation was at stake and it took the need to finish the project with a good outcome very seriously.

    But Axon is not excited to take the blame.

    CityBeat revealed on Friday that Axon has sued the city of San Diego and its nonprofit provider of IT needs, the San Diego Data Processing Corp, for $5.6 million, alleging that the city is using Axon’s intellectual property and that it broke a contract.

    This represents a final deterioration of relations between Axon and the city. After all, when the city fired the consulting firm, Axon still thought it would be involved.

    Here was the CEO Steve Peck’s quote from my piece on the situation in December 2008:

    “We would have preferred to stay in a leadership role but we welcome the city’s choice to use SAP and we look forward to being a big part of it going forward,” Peck said.

    I asked him what he plans on telling potential future clients about the problems in San Diego. A few months ago, for instance, Axon inked a deal with the city of Huntsville, Ala. It was at about the same time city of San Diego officials were gritting their teeth about the firm’s lack of production so far.

    Peck said that these sorts of “sweeping transformational projects” are inherently difficult. He said he would simply point any concerned customer to the company’s history of successfully implementing them.

    “When you’re reengineering the entire financial operations of the 7th largest city in the country, you’re replacing legacy systems and business processes that have been in place for 20-30 years. It’s not an easy task,” he said.

    I suppose the lawsuit means Peck’s company wasn’t a big part of anything going forward.

    This is an important issue to stay on top of. The city is spending tens of millions of dollars on this project under the assumption that, over the long term, it will save millions in staff hours currently spent trying to manage an antiquated and dysfunctional computer system.

    But like so many other major initiatives on which the city embarks, the true cost of the project — what kinds of services must be cut, what kind of other priorities suffer — was never a part of the discussion of whether to begin.

    And like so many other things, we’re left to find out the costs many years later.

  • On our weekly radio show on Nov. 1, I did a back and forth with the newly minted general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (MEA). You can find it here (Nov. 1).

    Zucchet, who has a lot of work ahead to improve MEA’s influence and image, made the somewhat surprising claim that city employees had taken some of the concessions of the past after having been told (or after having inferred somehow) that the mayor and City Council would then start exploring revenue increases (new taxes, fees, etc). He also said that while we could expect tremendous cutbacks in the ranks of city employees this year, along with services, he thought it would hit bottom.

    Lani Lutar, the CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association sent me a series of messages with perspective on what Zucchet said. I asked her to string them together and she has:

    It doesn’t surprise me that the labor unions may have been given some indication by city leadership over the last couple years that if concessions were made, they would be more comfortable going to taxpayers to seek revenue enhancements.

    Faced with a nearly $200 million deficit it would be disingenuous for the mayor to say that revenue enhancement options haven’t been considered. However, it’s also reasonable for the administration to consider the realities of the political and economic climate. Last May, over 70 percent of the county’s voters rejected attempts by the state to increase taxes. The city of Chula Vista’s tax measure also failed miserably around that same time. Since then, county unemployment figures have not improved and currently hovers around 10 percent.

    Besides, as you discussed with Michael, even if voters were to approve a tax increase next year — it wouldn’t be in time to address the current deficit.

    Michael also pointed out that according to the Mayor’s five year outlook, if the city addresses the upcoming budget with structural changes, we’ll see surpluses in future years. The problem with that assessment is that the outlook still doesn’t adequately fund deferred maintenance or retiree health care costs and assumes no salary adjustments over the next five years.

    There will be a lot to look for in the coming budget cycle, but wait for one thing in particular: whether long-term solutions are put in motion. The mayor and City Council might actually make some tough decisions — the kind where people lose jobs or residents are asked to sacrifice something beloved. But do they also put in motion long-term structural changes? Do they eliminate whole areas of service and reinforce core needs and completely realign employee compensation? Or do they announce plans to increase revenue somehow in the future?

    Or do they let services just deteriorate and tell us all we can do is hope for the economy to improve?

    SCOTT LEWIS

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