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Strains put an end to software deal

Pinellas County spent more than $1.2-million for EAI Systems/Bell Atlantic Public Sector Systems software and maintenance.

Just how much of that went through the county's 911 emergency dispatch center _ whose operations manager Christal Coleman had a romantic relationship with EAI President Jerry Carter _ is not immediately clear.

Some of the invoices from EAI have been destroyed after being on file three years, according to county finance director Richard Short.

In addition to being used at the county's 911 dispatch center, EAI software was used for separate paramedic dispatching and for ambulance billing, as well as other emergency medical record-keeping functions.

That means that Coleman had little involvement with some of the county's spending with the software company owned in part by Carter.

Partial county records and officials' estimates, however, would put the 911 center's portion about $60,000 a year since 1991.

Pinellas County first used EAI software in 1988 after it bought McDonnell-Douglas Computer Systems Co. computers. EAI was an exclusive software designer for McDonnell-Douglas and initially operated without a county contract. It was paid through McDonnell-Douglas' contract, county officials say.

Once Pinellas decided to buy McDonnell-Douglas equipment, it was tied to hiring EAI, said David Bilodeau, Coleman's supervisor and director of emergency management.

What EAI did was to use the county's 911 center as a guinea pig to develop various emergency medical dispatch and record-keeping software programs. The programs would be designed, then installed on county computers and fine-tuned.

For its trouble, the county got a free software system. EAI got a tested, marketable product.

EAI made its money with Pinellas County in fixing and improving that free software, as well as designing other software for other county emergency medical departments.

At first, that work was part of the county's payments to McDonnell-Douglas for service. Again, it is not immediately clear from county finance records how much that was.

During that time, Coleman's name appears on numerous memos to Carter at EAI requesting new software or asking that programs be fixed or modified. Coleman said those early requests came at no expense to the county, and many were never filled by EAI. Later requests would have cost money, and at least one did carry Coleman's name. But it is unclear from public records if that request was ever filled by EAI.

In September 1990, EAI got its own contract with the county. It was to be paid more than $45,000 a year for routine maintenance. For enhancements such as software upgrades or specialized programs, the county paid more. Bilodeau negotiated those amounts for the 911 center.

Bilodeau acknowledged that Coleman made recommendations on which requests to make of EAI, but he said he, not Coleman, had final say on whether county money was spent.

Bilodeau even said relations between the county and EAI got so bad that he locked the 911 center doors to keep EAI programers out. They had been coming in unannounced and dumping new, not-fully-tested software into the county's computers. Some of the programs locked up the computer system.

Bilodeau also said he never counted on Coleman's relationship with Carter to get good service from EAI. Though the two were on speaking terms, Bilodeau said he didn't "see eye to eye with Jerry Carter" and preferred dealing with other company officials.

Either way, at the end of last year Bilodeau pulled the plug on the EAI/Bell Atlantic contract. He and other county officials negotiated a deal to buy the software's internal source code for $60,000 and hired two former Carter software programers to straighten out problems. He figures he since has saved $100,000 over what it would have cost to have EAI/Bell Atlantic do the work.