Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Spinning Incompetence

In response to the splitting headache that the Accenture voter-list deal has become, the state Elections Board recently did what any embattled government agency would do: It hired a spin doctor.

The Elections Board's new "public information officer," Kyle Richmond, certainly will earn his keep. Sweating over missed deadlines, the Board has been busy renegotiating its contract with Accenture. Now the Board is revising its agreement with another private contractor working on the project, Deloitte Consulting. Under the new arrangement, Deloitte stands to earn an additional $1.5 million for project management services.

State taxpayers already were on the hook for at least $26.8 million in costs to develop the federally mandated voter registration system, including the $13.9 million the state has agreed to pay Accenture, the original $2.7 million earmarked for Deloitte Consulting for project management, and $10.2 million for state Elections Board staff oversight, hardware and data entry. In contrast, Minnesota relied on state employees to do its statewide voter list and completed the work at a cost of $5.3 million.

Richmond is between a rock and a hard place in his role as public apologist for the voter-list debacle. Justifiable sympathy does not excuse his recent stumbles, however. Earlier this month, he was telling citizens contacting the Elections Board to express their outrage with the Accenture contract that "the contract has not been 'reopened' as some have claimed."

We reminded him that his boss, Elections Board executive director Kevin Kennedy, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in May that he "wants to reopen the contract." When asked about whether the Elections Board might agree to pay Accenture more, he said "I wouldn't rule that out." The Elections Board subsequently agreed to a number of amendments to the contract in June. We know because we have the documents.

In a display of semantic gymnastics that would make Bill Clinton proud, Richmond insisted to us that Kennedy's quotes do not contradict what he later told angry citizens. And he held firm that the contract had not been reopened and instead characterized the numerous amendments to the Accenture agreement merely as "selective changes to the components and delivery dates stipulated in the contract."

So glad you cleared that up, Kyle. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of "reopen" is.

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