Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg police paid unapproved RNC consultant $9,500

ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Chuck Harmon "verbally counseled" a department employee who he recently learned hired a computer consultant during the Republican National Convention without permission.

Mike McDonald, assistant director of the agency's administrative services bureau, arranged for the technician to be at the department around the time of the convention to service the agency's Computer Aided Dispatch system, in case it shut down or was attacked by hackers.

The consultant from Intergraph, the same vendor that created the system, was paid $9,500.

But neither Harmon or Maj. Melanie Bevan, who was in charge of the agency's security efforts during the convention, knew anything about it until last week. The need for such a consultant wasn't brought up in any of the department's RNC planning meetings, and it wasn't authorized by Harmon or Bevan.

"We never talked about it," Harmon said, adding that he spoke to McDonald, an upper-level manager, about the matter Thursday afternoon. "I think his heart was in the right place. … But we should have talked about it before the money was allocated."

The money, Harmon said, will come out of dispatch funds in next year's budget.

The situation flabbergasted City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran.

"What really disturbs me is that you have the police chief and a top major who knew nothing about this," Curran said Thursday. "The question is, who's running the Police Department then?"

Curran said this latest revelation underlines her frustration with the lack of transparency about the city's costs related to the RNC.

St. Petersburg officials have resisted sharing the security costs. The city of Tampa freely released a breakdown that shows St. Petersburg is asking to be reimbursed for about $950,000. A final invoice is due to Tampa on Monday.

Harmon said he ordered an inquiry into the errant expenditure as soon as Bevan told him about it, which was late in the day Sept. 20.

Bevan was conducting an internal audit last week and came across the bill for the consultant, coded as RNC-related, he said. She flagged it and brought it to the chief's attention, who agreed not to submit it as a reimbursement cost to the city of Tampa because it hadn't been discussed in advance.

"I'm just not going to spring a bill on someone else," Harmon said. "We got some value out of (the consultant) being here. I don't want people to think he was here for five days and didn't do anything."

The consultant corrected technical issues during that time, validated security and provided training to IT staff, the department said.

Since the department's designated Computer Aided Dispatch technician had recently left the department, the consultant also was the only fully trained CAD support specialist on site, Harmon said.

Harmon said that in hindsight, hiring the consultant is probably something he would have been open to, given the magnitude of the RNC and the vacancy in the tech department."

"I just need to know about it," he said.

Harmon said he does not think McDonald set out to break a rule or deceive anyone, pointing to the fact that he turned in what he believed was a legitimate RNC cost.

McDonald, reached late Thursday, said he did not have anything to add. He will not face any other sort of discipline, Harmon said.

"I haven't lost my faith or trust in him. Mike and I talked about it, and I think he understands my expectations," Harmon said. "People make mistakes."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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