Last summer, City Council allotted $1.1 million to upgrade an information technology system that Chief of Staff Steve Cox said needed to be rebuilt "from scratch."
Amid turmoil that included the layoff of nine IT workers at a cost of more than $135,000 in severance pay, a revolving door of chief information officers (four since 2011), and a scathing audit that found major deficiencies, what did the city do?
It hired Hogan Lovells law firm, Mayor Steve Bach's go-to outfit.
Without competition, the city hired the firm under a contract dated Feb. 10, 2014, for an "IT Department Review." The contract was to expire July 15, 2014; it has since been extended for a year, though fees still can't exceed $250,000.
At a July 8 Council meeting, Cox told councilors, "We hired Hogan Lovells when we got to the point where we felt we were at risk. We reached out to them. They have a well-qualified group and act as eyes and ears for the mayor, to be sure what we're proposing is valid."
But Councilor Don Knight and others questioned why Hogan Lovells was retained, given the wealth of local IT experts.
The contract wasn't signed by Cox until July 10, seven days after the city made three payments totaling $89,013 to the firm for "IT investigations," according to documents obtained by the Independent through an open records request. Since then, the city has paid Hogan Lovells another $91,066, for a total of $180,079.
In a PowerPoint document, the city reports: "This project is green and on track." The work included "addition of direct ISP connections, firewalls, and more secure network routing to City concentration centers [to] provide needed capacity and a stable, reliable and easier to maintain network."
City spokeswoman Kim Melchor tells the Indy in an email that Hogan Lovells was hired due to its "experience with managing data and security issues for large companies, for example Home Depot when their data system was breached."
The law firm didn't work for the city before Bach — who as a mayoral candidate relied on Hogan Lovells for campaign-finance advice — came into office in mid-2011. Since then, it's collected $3.5 million in local public money, including $2.3 million for work on the city's legal dispute arising from the Memorial Health System lease. That dispute ended last fall, when the city paid the Public Employees Retirement Association $190 million to settle the case.