With a quick a 2-1 vote, a company with decades of history in local government got the boot from the Mobile County License Commission only six months after its owner testified against a current county official in a high-profile corruption case.
APL Software has performed millions of dollars worth of work for Mobile County but has typically operated with only a single employee — owner and programmer Victor Crawford.
While working for the license commission in 2014, Crawford made allegations of corruption against current Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie, who served as license commissioner at the time.
Blowing the whistle to FBI investigators, he wore a hidden camera, provided hundreds of documents to prosecutors and spent two full days on the witness stand in a trial that ultimately saw Hastie acquitted of all but one criminal charge.On Dec. 14, after slightly more than 10 weeks on the job, Hastie’s replacement Nick Matranga — who sat in the courtroom throughout her trial — filed a request to terminate the contract between Crawford and the Mobile County Commission.
“This had nothing to do with the trial that happened before. Nothing at all,” Matranga said after the termination was finalized. “I looked at this pretty analytically, and this was a broken system.”
Pointing to system failures, limited staff and high costs, Matranga said Crawford’s contract would have been a waste of taxpayer money if it had been maintained.
Crawford has a documented history of overbilling the county for his work, and according to Matranga, his current contract costs the county an average of $47,000 a month at a $150 hourly rate.
Mobile County Commissioners Connie Hudson and Jerry Carl voted to terminate the contract, citing savings to the county, but pulling no punches, District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood argued the move was “political” — something she is “personally opposed to and deeply offended by.”
“Mr. Crawford exercised his constitutional rights, the same as any other citizen. His business should not have to suffer and he shouldn’t be terminated from a contract because he did that,” Ludgood told reporters after the vote. “That’s absolutely the underlying motivation. Common sense tells me this is not about performance. This is about politics.”
During a previous work session, Ludgood made similar comments and was joined in her hesitation by Carl, who at the time had several questions about the replacement for APL Software’s selected by Matranga.
The new contractor, Ingenuity Inc., is a Pellham-based company performing similar computer operations for 13 other municipalities in the state. It’s owned and operated by Pelham City Council President Rick Hayes, who says the company’s involvement with so many clients has forced it to become as efficient as possible in updating both new software and adapting to new state regulations.“The legislature every year is going to change multiple things related to this, so it’s very much ongoing from the Department of Revenue, and that’s if you don’t update the system itself,” Hayes told Lagniappe. “Trying to maintain it for one customer is just about impossible, and that’s why we’ve built a system.”
Ingenuity has also been contracted by Elmore and Montgomery counties, which Carl cited as helping to influence his vote after they had “nothing but positive things to say about [Ingenuity].” Hayes said positive word-of-mouth is how the company gets most of its business.
Still, Ludgood also took issue with Ingenuity’s history in Mobile County, alleging the company had “been after this contract for years.” Haynes didn’t deny previous involvement and said the company has even performed a live demonstration of their system for Hastie and Crawford in the past.
However, he said they “never got the point of pulling the trigger on anything.”
Overall, Ingenuity is expected to save the county $690,000 over the next three years. Though Crawford’s charges have varied, Matranga says they’ve added up to around $2.5 million over the past six years — money that has only usually gone to one or two employees at the most.
Ingenuity plans to house one full-time staffer in Mobile County, but utilizes a network of 14 full-time and four part-time employees throughout its network. Ingenuity’s contract, which was approved as APL Software’s was terminated, includes an up-front fee of $180,000 but then moves to a fixed rate of $11,000 per month.
As of Dec. 14, Crawford has 30 days to transition out of his position as the sole programmer at the license commission, but Hayes said he would have to work closely with Ingenuity’s transition team to move millions of pieces of data into the new system.
Asked if the transition could prove contentious, Matranga said he had “no way to know.”
“That’s why I wanted this time to transition,” he said. “I trust Mr. Crawford will be professional and I assume Mr. Hayes will be professional as well for the betterment of everybody here in Mobile County.”
Lagniappe reached out to Crawford prior to the vote, but he said he didn’t wish to comment on this report.
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