REDONDO BEACH — In a dramatic move intended to make it clear who is in charge of the city's data processing system, city officials last week locked out representatives of the computer firm that has operated the system since 1978.
City workers changed the locks on three data processing rooms at City Hall that house the city's two central computers, several offices, video-display terminals and supplies, City Manager Timothy Casey said this week. When employees of Computer Management Services Inc. arrived for work the next day, they were denied entry, he said.
"We decided that we would essentially make it clear who is in charge of the data center," Casey said. "The day-to-day relationship got to the point where we were feeling like uninvited intruders in our own data processing facilities."
John Chaney, chairman of CMSI, said in a telephone interview from the company's headquarters in Portland that the lock-out resulted from a "flare up" between a company worker and city employees. He described the situation as a domestic quarrel that could be traced to personality differences.
"What happened is unfortunate, and it was an improper action as far as the person involved from our company," Chaney said. "It is not the kind of activity that we feel is appropriate for anyone in our company. Redondo Beach is our customer, and the customer is always right."
Casey said the decision to "restructure" the city's relationship with CMSI has been under consideration for about six months because of complaints from various city departments about the services provided by the firm, including problems with an estimated $500,000 worth of parking tickets that are in the system.
The company has a $200,000-a-year contract with the city that is renewed annually. The company is responsible for all of the city's data processing needs except for public safety dispatch services, which are provided by another firm, Casey said. The company has about five employees working out of the center at City Hall, including an account executive, two customer service representatives and programming personnel, he said.
Casey said the decision to lock out CMSI, was precipitated by the activities of one or two of the company's employees, whom he refused to identify, and not by deteriorating relations with the company as a whole.
"We became somewhat concerned as we were talking through a change of relationship with the company that we might have problems with one employee in particular and perhaps a second," he said. "When you are reliant on an individual company or vendor for something as important as data processing, and you are talking about a wholesale change of relationship, you have to be concerned that it might become hostile."
Casey said the employees were locked out to protect the city from "any possible tomfoolery" with city programs and data.
"There was no fear that a directive would come from Portland saying, 'Do something to Redondo Beach,' " he said. "It was more of a concern about the action of the individual employees."
Chaney said the company is investigating the incident and said the employee involved, whom he did not name, has been taken off the Redondo Beach account. He said it is unfortunate that Redondo Beach officials deemed it necessary to lock out his company, but he said CMSI plans to continue working with the city.
"Nobody was going to sabotage anything," said Chaney when asked about city fears that company employees might tamper with programs.
Casey said the lock-out decision was made after consultations with City Atty. Gordon Phillips and outside counsel. He said both the company and the city consider the contract suspended by mutual agreement, although CMSI this week assigned a new account representative to work with the city during a cooling-off period. In the meantime, Casey said, routine city data processing is being handled by city employees.
Under its contract, CMSI regularly takes advantage of the unused capacity of the system in Redondo Beach to do work for other clients, Casey said.
The account executive, he said, has helped make sure the city isn't limiting the company's access to the data center for those purposes. On Tuesday, the city placed all of CMSI's work for other clients on tapes and turned them over to the company, he said.
CMSI submitted a proposal to Redondo Beach this week that outlines the basis for a new relationship with the city, Casey said. The city will review the proposal with its attorneys today, he said, and determine whether to accept it. He said the proposal dramatically alters the city's relationship with the company by making the company's services available on a "needs basis."
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