New documents reveal 'long list of issues' delaying Denver's $5.5 million online permitting system

Denver spent millions, taxpayers see no progress

DENVER - New documents obtained by 7NEWS reveal a "long list of issues" pushing Denver's multi-million dollar online government services system years behind.  Efforts to implement the system in the City and County of Denver began four years ago, and records reveal the project has never been on target or under budget.

In 2010, the City and County of Denver started spending taxpayer dollars on the online system, called Accela Automation. The original price tag was more than $2 million. Once implemented, the technology is supposed to improve government services by streamlining permitting, inspections, and licensing work. 

Contracts obtained by 7NEWS show Denver will now spend more than $5.5 million for implementation services and Accela software licensing. Documents show the transition was supposed to be completed in 2012.  However, the City and County of Denver is still not using the Accela system. 

7NEWS first brought our questions to Denver's Chief Performance Officer, David Edinger, in February. Edinger is in charge of making sure Denver implements the Accela online permitting system.

"At least $5.5 million taxpayer dollars spent on software that's not being used. Bottom line here, why is that?" asked 7NEWS investigative reporter Amanda Kost.

"The reason is it was more complex than we originally thought, which pushed our timing back," explained Edinger.

WATCH 7NEWS at 10 p.m. for the latest report on the Accela project

 

- Troubled from the start -

7NEWS kept digging for answers. After requesting and reviewing hundreds of pages of reports and invoices, we found the Accela project was troubled from the start.  The project was initially labeled with "caution issues, budget issues, or schedule delays."  After missing the initial go-live implementation date for phase one, the project was flagged with "high potential to not meet project deadline."

We found agendas from early 2013 logging thousands of work hours on a "long list of issues." Other documents detail problems contributing to delays including, "having a hard time committing resources to testing" and regarding a key element for implementation noting, "No status or movement on this for 7 weeks." 

Weekly status reports document a pattern of changing the "go live" implementation dates. Phase one of the Accela project was initially slated to launch in May 2012. That date was later replaced with "TBD [to be determined]." After our initial 7NEWS investigation,  June 2014 was designated as the new deadline to launch the first phase.

Project records document significant leadership turnover for Accela and the City and County of Denver throughout the project.  We counted eight different Accela or Denver project managers since 2011. 

In September 2010, a contract shows Denver agreed to pay $300,000 for a plan that detailed activities, costs, expected difficulties and schedules involved in implementing Accela's online permitting system. Denver then purchased Accela's online permitting system for $2,284,578.85 in December 2010. The City and County of Denver agreed to pay Accela for time and materials associated with the project, instead of agreeing to pay upon completion of the transition.

In addition, Denver has paid employees for their time spent on the stalled project.

 

- The latest $2 million -

On Nov. 1, 2013, Christine Binnicker submitted the latest ordinance request for additional funding for the project. Binnicker is the executive director of information and technology services for the City and County of Denver.

During a Denver City Council Government and Finance Committee meeting in Dec. 2013, Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz and Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman had questions regarding the request for additional Accela project funding in order to launch the system.

"What do I need to know so I don't keep putting $4.5 million dollars and more of taxpayer money into a sinking hole?" asked Councilwoman Faatz.

"We already had $2 million with them. (Accela) Had we not expected them to implement it with that $2 million?" Councilwoman Susman asked later in that same hearing.

In January 2013, Denver City Council members unanimously approved an additional $2 million in funding for the Accela implementation project.

7NEWS Investigative Reporter Amanda Kost asked Councilwoman Susman, "When that $2 million is up, this system…?"

"Better be working," said Susman.

"Or?" asked Kost.

"Oh, I don't know, people have to be held accountable," said Susman.

"Can you honestly say that the City and County of Denver has made the most efficient use of the ($5.5 million) taxpayer dollars in these four years?" asked Kost.

"I feel confident that we're on the right track now and we've got the team that can get it implemented, and we should, we should get it implemented as quickly as we can," said Susman.

 

- Agencies still waiting -

The five different Denver City and County agencies that were expected to make the transition to Accela, are still waiting on implementation. At this point, Denver has not started phase one of the transition.

Initially, the Accela project was supposed to be implemented in 2012, but the entire system won't be fully operational until 2015.

"Well, that wasn't what they were telling us at the very beginning," said Faatz.  

Councilwoman Faatz said she has reservations about the Accela project because it is running years behind and the cost for taxpayers has multiplied without completion.

"I haven't found one [government technology application] that's actually worked the way it was sold. Heaven's knows I'm getting tired of replacing technology system after technology system," further explained Councilwoman Faatz.

7NEWS reached out to Accela to learn more about the delays in implementation.  A company spokesperson has refused to answer our questions.

We also requested an on-camera interview with Christine Binnicker from the City and County of Denver to learn more about the delayed implementation. She declined our requests.  

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