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Tarrant County’s New Court Software Program Might Face Audit

The costs of TechShare.Courts have mounted amid a 12-year saga, and now an elected official is calling for an audit.

Tarrant County officials are looking into auditing its courts software system two months after its launch.

The case management program, TechShare.Courts, took the county 12 years to get off the ground. It has cost taxpayers at least $26.6 million.

An audit on the program would add another $150,000 to that price tag, according to Commissioners Court agenda documents from June 20. County Administrator G.K. Maenius said Monday that the cash has yet to be set aside.

It’s unclear where the figure for the audit came from. When counties contract to conduct studies, they seek a proposal for a firm to conduct the study. The firm then comes back with a price tag that county leaders can agree to pay or reject.

The county has not yet gone out for a proposal on the audit.

County Commissioner Alisa Simmons has publicly questioned the program the most of all the members of the court. At her request, there’s a section of each agenda dedicated to discussing the program each time the court meets.

She says she’s the one who proposed the audit, and she still thinks the launch was premature.

“It’s plagued with problems,” Simmons said. “It’s time to quit pretending it’s functioning at its full capacity.”

Simmons said members of her staff have been shown the problems with the software program, and she thinks it’s time to bring in someone to do an audit to tell county leaders if something is wrong with it.

County leaders were supposed to discuss the audit during their June 20 meeting but pushed it to a later date because Commissioner Gary Fickes, the county’s representative for TechShare, was in the hospital and absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Manny Ramirez said the item’s placement on the agenda was premature. He doesn’t think an audit needs to be conducted for another six months to a year.

“It’s a little early to dig into it and find out if the implementation and rollout was successful when, I mean, we’re only two months in,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Monday.

Ramirez doesn’t have a reason to believe the program shouldn’t be trusted, though he said there have been pain points and frustrations that have come up just like with any software launch. All the feedback he said he has received from administrators and end users has been positive.

In the future, Ramirez said county leaders would be exploring how they would move forward with their business relationship with TechShare.

“Ultimately, I don’t think any option is off the table when it comes to exploring how to efficiently manage TechShare going forward,” Ramirez said.

Commissioners Roy Charles Brooks and Fickes couldn’t immediately be reached for comment via phone Monday.

A representative for County Judge Tim O’Hare did not respond to three emails requesting comment on why the audit is needed, what the audit says about county leaders’ trust in the program, if he had gotten feedback from county employees on the program and if he foresaw the county sticking with TechShare.Courts.

The program’s rollout has been led by District Clerk Tom Wilder and County Clerk Mary Louise Nicholson.

Wilder told the Star-Telegram Monday that he supported the audit.

Wilder said staffers have had to do “workarounds” for functions that handle warrants and bonds.

“This is a normal installation,” Wilder said. “We’ve had other implementations of new software before. It takes a while to work out these kinks because you never really can identify everything pre-installation, you know, pre-go-live. You have to actually get in there and start working.”

Nicholson wrote in an email Monday she believed the program was tracking as expected.

“Courts are successfully running and the system is being tweaked as needed to achieve peak performance,” she wrote.

TechShare.Courts has a long statewide history. Tarrant County originally signed on with Travis and Dallas counties to develop software they could sell to other counties.

Travis County backed out of the program in 2016 after spending more than $3 million. Dallas County left in 2020 after spending $35 million.

Tarrant County ran into hurdles with launching the program when its vendor went bankrupt in 2014 and again in 2019 when leaders discovered the program wasn’t working.

Tarrant County’s program launch was originally planned for October 2022. That date was pushed to New Year’s Day, then the end of January. County officials discussed launching the program April 1 before settling on May 1.

©2023 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.