Released: City drops computer cost fight

After going to court to keep the cost of its new $6.6 million computer system secret, Charlottesville dropped its plans to appeal and released the cost breakdown June 4.

The saga into uncharted Freedom of Information Act law began when former municipal database consultant Jim Moore thought the cost of Charlottesville's new CityLink computer system, which he says will soar to $17 million over 10 years, was way too much for a city this size to pay. He filed a FOIA request for a breakdown of the $6.6 million contract– but the city refused, citing vendor confidentiality.

Moore appealed the decision to Charlottesville General District Court, and Judge Robert Downer ruled in his favor May 21. The city vowed to appeal to circuit court, but then its vendors– e.a. consulting and Osprey– let it off the hook.

"The vendors decided we'd fulfilled our contractual obligations to protect the information," says Deputy City Attorney Lisa Kelley. "They decided they didn't want to pursue this further after the judge's decision."

The eight pages of cost information were mailed to Moore June 4. "I'm disturbed by what I see," says Moore, "but that's as far as I can say right now."

Moore and John Pfaltz, a retired UVA computer science professor, plan a press conference on Thursday, June 10 to discuss what Pfaltz calls "the shortcomings of this very expensive project."

Kelley is relieved the Freedom of Information fight is over. "It's been a difficult thing for all of us," she says. "City staff is excited by the system, and they think it's going to be a good thing. This whole thing about the secrecy has been a distraction."

The case will influence how the city deals with future requests from vendors to keep information proprietary and provide a procedure that puts the onus on suppliers, rather than the city.

"Now at least we have a court order that says, I think this needs to be done," says Kelley. "We have a judge who's looked at it, and we think his decision was well considered."

Moore, too, is relieved the court appeal was dropped, but he's still not sold on CityLink. "It can do more transactions in an hour than we do in a year," he says. "It's like buying a Ferrari to drive in the inner city."

Jim Moore got the information he requested under the Freedom of Information Act, and he intends to use it to show why he believes the city's new CityLink computer system is too darned expensive.