August 13, 2005
DFL senators on Friday accused Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer of hiding problems with a computer services firm that contracted with the state to improve its voter registration system.
At issue was an agreement made by Kiffmeyer's office when it canceled the firm's contract. The state agreed that "all personnel participants to this contract will not give either verbal or written statements to anyone as to the cancellation of this contract other than it was cancelled by reason of the State of Minnesota's budget cuts," according to the deal between Kiffmeyer and the firm.
Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, challenged Kiffmeyer about the agreement at a hearing of the Senate Elections Committee.
"This is a gag order on the employees of the state of Minnesota, saying you can't tell the truth about the cancellation," he said.
Kiffmeyer told senators that the agreement, which included a final payment to the firm, was written with the advice of staff lawyers. She said the deal assured that a computer code used by the firm would be given to the state, allowing her staff to maintain the vendor's software system and save money.
"Budget cuts were certainly a factor" leading to cancellation of the contract, she added.
The legislative auditor, in a regular review of the secretary of state's office released last month, said Kiffmeyer's office didn't follow standard procedures when it canceled the contract.
DFLers seized on the finding at the committee hearing and demanded more information about problems with the contract.
The audit report said the secretary of state's office entered into a $300,000 contact with the computer vendor, Election.com, in January 2002. The office paid the contractor $42,500 for services but then apparently became dissatisfied with the work. When the vendor sent bills in 2003 for $68,000, the office replied, "We are denying payment due to unsatisfactory performance," and attached a three-page memo listing problems.
But later in 2003, the office paid the vendor $48,130 of the $68,000 and joined the firm in signing the agreement that said the contract was canceled because of budget cuts and forbade parties to give other reasons.
The legislative auditor's report said secretary of state staffers said that they paid the final $48,130 to ensure that the vendor would turn over a code it had developed for the computer system and that the office wanted to avoid a lengthy legal battle.
Pat Doyle is at email@example.com.