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Sivertsen Returns Fire, Shells Own Position in Brown County IT Discussion

Aberdeen American News, not afraid to go for the bold headline, 2015.09.13.
Aberdeen American News, not afraid to go for the bold headline, 2015.09.13.

SIVERTSEN SPEAKS OUT,” my Sunday paper shouted. “Brown County IT chief fires back at job critics.”

All right, I thought. Paul Sivertsen’s going to get into the nitty gritty and really refute the smack that Pat Hale and Matt Deilke have been putting in the press about his work on the Brown County Fair ticket website, his work hours, his double-billing, and other matters pertaining to his position as Brown County’s only employee making six figures.

But as I read Sivertsen’s responses, I didn’t feel fire or hear speaking out. I found a lack of specific rebuttal and, frankly, more doubt sowed.

Consider Sivertsen’s response to the charge that his reports of tickets sales from the Fair’s online ticket system were late and unreliable:

When Treasurer Sheila Enderson came before commissioners to report inaccuracies in the online ticket sales report numbers, Sivertsen said a lack of communication was the culprit.

“It was a line of communication issue more than anything,” Sivertsen said. “There were a lot of factors to that. Granted, the treasurer and auditor (Maxine Fischer) should’ve been more involved before ticket sales went on. Nobody is denying that.”

Sivertsen added that, contrary to popular belief, he is in no way trying to withhold information, nor does he have an unwillingness to work with outside agencies that might be able to help the ticketing program.

“We’re not trying to hide anything, I’ll be as transparent as I can be,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of misconception that IT makes decisions on how the fair program works or how tickets are sold. No, we’re here to service what needs to be done, but those decision [sic] are made through the proper chain of command” [link added; Shannon Marvel, “Paul Sivertsen Fires Back at Job Critics,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.09.13].

The “culprit” isn’t the lack of communication. The “culprit” is whoever’s not communicating. Sivertsen doesn’t tell us who blocked the line of communication. He doesn’t tell us what misconceptions are out there or dispel them with details. He doesn’t refute the statements made that the county treasurer didn’t have the reliable reports she needed to file sales tax reports on fair ticket sales. “Speaking out” would involve communicating more specific answers to those issues.

Sivertsen does get specific about where this ticket information is hosted. Sure, all those ticket-buyers credit card information is on his own server, and for good reason:

Both Deilke and Hale have voiced concerns about Sivertsen’s involvement with county fair ticket sales. Hale specifically questioned why Sivertsen’s personal business server hosted the county’s fair ticket program.

“The county doesn’t have the development software,” Sivertsen explained. “They don’t have a server or the bandwidth to manage such a big thing. Luckily, I had the resources so I could do that.”

Sivertsen said once he developed the program, he donated it to the county for free and used Sivertsen Technology servers to provide the bandwidth to run it.

“I’ll donate it and host it for nothing as long as I possibly can, if I’m asked,” he said. “I don’t make that decision, that’s a decision that the fair board and commission make” [Marvel, 2015.09.13].

A public official processes and stores official communications, including sensitive and confidential information, on a private server over which that public official has complete control. Congratulations, IT chief Siversten: you just one-upped Hillary Clinton.

As IT chief, when your organization lacks the capacity to handle certain IT tasks, you don’t just take all those tasks home and put them on your private computer. You explain to the organization what it lacks, you present a plan for developing the needed capacity, and you help them implement that plan. You don’t just freelance it and say “Good enough!” especially when you’re taking private financial information for the government.

The only part of the article that really offers Sivertsen any useful defense is the final two paragraphs. Buried below Sivertsen’s ineffective rebuttal is this comment from Sheriff Mark Millbrandt (the second-highest paid employee in the county):

“He (Sivertsen) does all of our security, all of our cameras, our phone system, our computers — all the stuff we have to use,” Milbrandt said. “He’s been nothing but positive for us. It’s a lot of satisfaction and it’s a peace of mind when my staff is back there with the inmates” [Marvel, 2015.09.13].

Uff da—if you’re going to fire back, really fire back, and don’t backfire! And if you can’t do that, let the sheriff speak for you.

Meanwhile, Matt Deilke has created a Facebook page titled “Promoting Honesty and Transparency in County Government.” Thus far, the page appears dedicated to compiling and sharing articles about Brown County’s IT issues.

12 Comments

  1. David Newquist 2015-09-14 11:46

    At last Friday’s Democratic Forum, when the matter of how county business was being run there were many shrugs and dismissive grimaces. Under the current county commission, a real downturn in the efficiency and integrity of service has been noted. This commission is more concerned about gaining power through changing elected positions to appointed ones and meddling in Fair business than in providing service to the people of Brown County.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-14 14:35

    Do they really gain any great power by meddling in the operation of the fair? Does allowing sensitive personal financial data to be housed on an employee’s non-public computer really give anyone a sense of satisfaction?

  3. Nate K 2015-09-14 14:47

    Lol, it was a simple WordPress site – Development tools? For what?

    I posted about the security concerns in your last story, not going to revisit that here. But I do question how secure those credit card transactions were… Check your statements!

    I look forward to finding the whole article to read later when not on my phone…

  4. leslie 2015-09-14 14:53

    not taking or knowing any detail to take a side, i speculate that few wise employees would wish to expose their personnel issues publicaly, thus the liklihood in the above restrained response.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2015-09-14 14:56

    So do the ticket sales match the bank deposits. We had a problem with that at the county fair here in Sioux Falls a few years ago. Even the auditors had forgotten to check cash. Everyone that needed to be was in on it. Now the cash goes through the computer and no one handles it and I am wondering if there is another private account that is comfortably receiving deposits that no one can see walk in the bank door since it goes there by private computer?
    In Sioux Falls we had the treasurer giving gifts(Harley Davidson motorcycle) to her boss and then the boss happened to be a college friend of the county attorney who told the lawyer that he put in change that the boss at the fair was his personal friend so to not have conflict of interest the county attorney would not handle it himself. Well if the county attorney gives out a lot of lawyer jobs and a lawyer is told, ‘this is my friend’, then there is a conflict of interest since it was told that the county attorney has a friend in this. The boss at the fair did not go to jail and the treasurer did. Suddenly the fair got solvent again.

  6. Roger Elgersma 2015-09-14 15:22

    Separation of power is the basis of the constitution, both state and federal. This is the idea of people who came from Europe when all their governments were monarchies. We need to remember our roots.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-14 16:10

    Well, David, eliminating the treasurer, auditor, and recorder would have gotten rid of all the people giving IT a hard time over the tickets, wouldn’t it have? :-)

    Nate, I’m thinking about Sivertsen’s statement about bandwidth. The grandstand has 3,500 seats. If there are seven big events, that’s 24,500 tickets up for grabs. Online sales appear to have made up 19% of this summer’s sales. Those online sales were spread out from June through August. If we sold out (I don’t know that we did, but let’s assume), that would be about 4700 tickets sold through the online system. Spread out over 70 days, that’s an average of about 60–70 tickets per day.

    Is my math o.k. so far? Now let’s try planning for growth:

    Suppose online ticket sales catch on. Suppose we get some hot shows that could sell quickly. We could stagger opening tickets sales for each show, so each show’s sales open on a different day, avoiding swamping the system. If 50% of our ticket sales happen online, that’s 12,250 tickets. Suppose half of those tickets move during the first week that we open the system, while the remaining sell steadily through the summer. Let’s round up and say we need a system that can handle 2,000 transactions per day during peak opening sales days.

    Nate, how’s my math? And how robust a system do we need to handle that sort of traffic?

    (While I know that blog views and ticket sales are very different transactions, Dakota Free Press handles over 2,000 views every day this year except for one spectacularly sunny and thus slow weekend in July.)

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-14 16:12

    And you’re right, Nate—the code says WordPress. Is there anything in that code that the county could not have obtained and installed on an in-house server?

  9. Nate K 2015-09-14 16:17

    No, as you know WordPress is free and can run on many patforms.

    As for bandwidth, I don’t think that a site like that would use a terrible amount more than what your side does, if any more at all. Both of them would be database driven, they both generate dynamic content, if anything I think one page view on your site generates more content and database activity than a ticket sales site would.

    One consideration for a ticket sales site would be the fact that I think a ticket sales site is more prone to a surge of traffic, I would not expect there to be a steady 60-70 tickets sold per day but instead a large majority of the tickets close to the day the acts are announced, and another surge near the date of performance. All of that being said, this is not a large event venue and I am just not sure that anything terribily special would be needed to handle the traffic.

  10. grudznick 2015-09-14 18:41

    Uff da—if you’re going to fire back, really fire back, and don’t backfire! And fi [sic] you can’t do that, let the sheriff speak for you.

    Indeed. I bet this fellow is plugging in plugs and untangling cords for the Sheriff’s cameras and not taking credit card payments from the inmates on his own Hillary-style server.

    [CAH: fixed! Thanks for the proofreading, Grudz!]

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-14 18:48

    Good point about bandwidth, Nate. As I think about it, loading just the main page for this site seems to work the database pretty hard. I serve up 100KB images, call a bunch of functions, fill the RSS feeds in the sidebar with requests to dozens of other servers, etc. SivTechEvent.com loads one basic page, then works a basic form to get credit card info and make the sale. It doesn’t seem that complicate from a bandwidth perspective. It just requires more security.

    Surges seem the sensible model. Plan for them, not daily usage. But the surges we’re talking about here are thousands at most.

  12. Porter Lansing 2015-09-15 09:37

    If someone was to claim their personal server was hacked and money is missing that would be a foolproof crime.

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