Tarrant County leaders criticize rollout of $26 million court software
Despite a mostly successful launch Monday, commissioners still have their doubts about the costly TechShare court software program that’s been in development for more than a decade.
Tarrant County's new court management software is up and running after 12 years of development, but commissioners are still wondering whether it's worth the more than $26 million taxpayers have spent on the system.
At a commissioners court meeting Tuesday, county leaders commended the teams who worked on implementing the software — an electronic court document management system — but expressed their dissatisfaction with the time and money it's taken to get the TechShare software up and running.
"How much money did we waste by doing it externally through TechShare instead of having folks up here build it for us?" said Precinct 4 Commissioner Manny Ramirez. "Instead of having TechShare engineers working for our ITD department? That's the conversation we need to have."
The comments came during an update from County Administrator G.K. Maenius, who briefed the court Tuesday on the weekend-long development process leading up to TechShare.Court's official launch Monday.
"As in any implementation of software that you either build or you buy off the shelf, whenever you get to the point of putting that software in and going live, you're going to have minor problems," Maenius said.
The Austin-based TechShare program was formed in 2004 with the goal of developing efficient software for counties to use in their court systems.
Over the years, the company has developed individual programs for juvenile criminal courts, jails and other county departments to manage tasks like scheduling and electronic case filing.
In 2019, several Texas counties formed the TechShare Local Government Corporation headed by county commissioners from across the state.
Since then, Dallas County has stopped investing in the software. Commissioners cited development delays they said cost the county too much money, as reported by the Dallas Morning News in 2019.
Tarrant County pushed back the launch date for the TechShare court program, which was at one point scheduled for Dec. 1, 2022, according to a commissioners court agenda item.
District Clerk Tom Wilder and County Clerk Mary Louise Nicholson said Tuesday transferring 40 years of data wasn't seamless, but their teams worked hard to get it going by the May 1 deadline.
"When you replace something as complicated as an entire integrated criminal justice software ... and you've got multiple other agencies that need access to that data, it becomes a real challenge," Wilder said.
After recess, it was revealed the county clerk's e-filing system through TechShare still wasn't operational as of this afternoon. Nicholson said she expects the e-filing system to be fully functional by the end of the day.
County Judge Tim O'Hare argued the county would spend less money on a ready-made system, not software TechShare is developing from scratch.
He added that, even though the technology is working now, he didn’t think the county should rely on TechShare LGC to maintain it.
"It's pretty clear that we've got a local government corporation essentially trying to run a private company," O'Hare said. "Which I think is a bad idea to begin with, but we're here and we've got to deal with it."
Ramirez and Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks both said they're more concerned about maintaining the five other TechShare systems Tarrant County was working with — TS.Juvenile, TS.Prosecutor, TS.Indigent Defense, TS.Magistration and TS.Jail.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Alisa Simmons called the attempts at implementing TechShare.Courts a failure. She said she doesn't think selling the software will work either.
"What are we going to do, sell this to a hundred much smaller counties of 20,000 and recoup what?" Simmons said.
O'Hare suggested county officials put a pin in any new development under TechShare.
Commissioners ultimately decided not to take any action on the issue and will pick up the conversation again at a future meeting.
"I think the software side is one piece," Ramirez said. “It appears that it's working, you're fixing bugs as they come up, but the business side is a conversation that we still have to have, and it's completely separate, in my opinion.”
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