“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.