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A study of Pulaski County employee salaries recently was canceled because of a violation of a contracting procedure, according to emails received under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

In November, County Judge Barry Hyde hired the Fayetteville-based Johanson Group, a management consulting firm, to review the competitiveness of salaries paid to the county's 26 information technology employees. The study arose from contention among elected county officials as they ironed out the 2017 budget.

The county clerk, treasurer, assessor and sheriff argued that the salaries paid to the information technology employees -- ranging from $42,000 to $66,000 -- were not high enough to compete in the local labor market.

"We have an area of expertise that is in demand across our society, and our people, of course, have skills that are sellable outside of this building," County Clerk Larry Crane said in November. "I have lost several people over the last six years. I've had people who were literally stolen from me by other enterprises."

The county's budget committee rejected any significant raises for the employees. Instead, Hyde opted to hire the Johanson Group to "get a professional opinion."

The $3,600 work contract was signed and initiated Nov. 21, and a spokesman for the county said the study results were expected to be released by April 1.

But county departments faced a March 1 deadline for submitting salary-change proposals to the budget committee. With that deadline quickly approaching, Crane began seeking information about the study.

He wrote an email to Hyde on Feb. 9 saying: "We seem to have a timing problem in that you have personal access to the [study's] recommendations and findings for all IT employees, a deadline approaches, and neither I nor the other Officers have been advised of the results in any way."

Hyde responded in a Feb. 14 email that he had met with the Johanson Group to learn about the study's methodology, but that "no draft report was provided to me or received."

Meanwhile, Crane's request for information prompted county attorney Adam Fogleman to review the Johanson Group contract, and in that review Fogleman discovered a violation of county policy.

The county's purchasing policy requires professional service contracts to be put out for bids, but Fogleman discovered Feb. 15 that the county had bypassed the bidding process in contracting with the Johanson Group.

The next day, nearly three months into the group's review process, Fogleman canceled the contract.

"It has come to my attention that there exists a need to terminate your contract. An error occurred during the county's procurement process and this need does not arise from your performance or from the terms of the contract itself," Fogleman wrote to the group's president, Blair Johanson, on Feb. 16.

On Tuesday, the group issued a $3,600 refund to the county.

Johanson did not return phone calls. The Democrat-Gazette filed a request under the state's Freedom of Information Act seeking drafts or preliminary findings of the study. He did not supply anything, citing the cancellation of the contract with Pulaski County.

Fogleman and county spokesman Cozetta Jones said the county had no preliminary reports or drafts of the study to reveal.

The Johanson Group previously has contracted with several governmental, private and nonprofit organizations around the state, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Tyson Foods, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and the Democrat-Gazette.

County officials have not indicated when or if they intend to issue a request for proposals to revive the personnel study.

Metro on 02/26/2017

Print Headline: County voids study on IT staff's salaries

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