(Times-News (Burlington, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 12--GRAHAM -- Alamance County is preparing to spend $150,000 in fiscal 2014-15 on Sheriff Terry Johnson's defense against a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over allegations he and his department discriminated against Latinos.
County Attorney Clyde Albright said the $150,000 would be used to pay for the county's cost of going to trial, which is scheduled for July. The DOJ and attorney Chuck Kitchen, representing Johnson, filed motions this month requesting summary judgment on their behalf from a federal court in the lawsuit. Summary judgment asks for a ruling without a full trial.
No ruling on the motions has been released.
Albright discussed the DOJ lawsuit Wednesday during an Alamance County Budget Committee meeting. The county legal department's operational budget is projected to increase by 35 percent in 2014-15 due in part to the DOJ lawsuit, Albright said.
The county had budgeted $115,000 for Johnson's legal defense in fiscal 2013-14. Albright said this total would be amended to $145,000 for the current fiscal year because the county incurred an additional $30,000 in the case.
Albright said the county was preparing to file five more briefs in the case, including a response to the DOJ's request for summary judgment and a motion requesting the court to strike the DOJ's expert witness testimony.
Albright said the county would not spend the projected $150,000 in fiscal 2014-15 if a federal court rules in favor of Kitchen's request for summary judgment and the case doesn't go to trial. The county has spent $195,000 so far supporting Johnson's legal defense.
According to the DOJ, ACSO has practiced unlawful traffic enforcement operations for at least the past six years, "constituting a pattern or practice of constitutional violations under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994."
The DOJ had invited the Sheriff's Office in 2012 to negotiate a court-enforceable agreement to remedy the alleged violations. The Sheriff's Office declined the offer, which led to the DOJ's decision to sue Johnson in December 2012.
DEPARTMENT HEADS from finance, purchasing, human resources, tax, planning, governing body and geographic information systems also presented their requests to the budget committee for 2014-15.
County Manager Craig Honeycutt said there were no changes in the general government budget for 2014-15. Budget request increases were minimal from a majority of the departments making presentations.
Included in the purchasing department's proposed budget was a capital outlay line item for $50,000 on computer equipment. The finance department's proposed budget included a capital outlay for $200,000 for 2014-15.
County Finance Officer Tom Manning said these funds could be used to begin upgrading the county's computer software to be used by various departments. The county currently uses COBOL programming language on its hardware network. COBOL was developed in 1959 and stands for Common Business Oriented Language.
Manning said the county a decade ago had evaluated its COBOL system and at that time decided not to make any changes.
Manning said 49 counties across the state use more modern MUNIS software to run their computer networks, and that Alamance County should consider implementing this up-to-date program in a phased approach over three to four years. The cost to purchase and implement the new software system would be $900,000 to $1 million.
Manning said the MUNIS system would be integrated, allowing departments to conduct more immediate financial analysis, track vendor purchase orders more efficiently, gain access to prior-year business ledgers, and connect the finance department's accounting ledger to the tax department. Also, external auditors would receive information faster, and the county would have a more automated software system.
"It's time to move towards this," Manning said.
The county currently relies on County Management Information Systems Senior Systems Analyst Arlene King to operate and maintain the COBOL software. Manning said she is the only county employee who has expert knowledge of COBOL, and that if she were to retire or be absent from work the county would be at risk nobody else understands how to write programming language for COBOL.
"Why haven't we heard about this before?" Commissioner Tim Sutton asked.
Sutton said he believed the county was in a weakened position having to rely on one person to run the outdated software. Commissioner John Paisley Jr. said he couldn't believe the county was still using COBOL.
Manning said if the county decided to move forward with a software system upgrade, it could be paid for by securing a bank loan, making annual installments over five years, or be paid for through the county's general fund.
THE BUDGET committee received a report from County Human Resources Director Sherry Hook regarding the need to conduct a pay and classification study for all county positions. The last time this study was done was in 1999. Hook said the Piedmont Triad Council of Government would be responsible for conducting the study because the county doesn't have the internal resources to conduct it.
It would be up to the county commissioners whether to allow the PTCG to move forward with the three-year study costing $66,000. Hook said the study would evaluate each county position's classification and title to determine whether the positions were correctly labeled.
"They really dig deeper into responsibilities of positions to make sure we are classifying them correctly," Hook said. "The struggle we have now is we haven't done a study in a long time and don't know where the base line is with classifications."
The budget committee is scheduled to meet again at 10 a.m. Friday at the county commissioners meeting room at 124 W. Elm. St. in Graham to review department heads' budget requests for 2014-15. The departments scheduled to present budget information include inspections, register of deeds, recreation and parks, central garage and central communications.
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