By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The State can now add another failure, to the growing number of times the STAARS accounting software has proven inadequate to fulfill the promises of Gov. Robert Bentley and Acting Finance Director Bill Newton. The Alabama Political Reporter can now confirm, that this software boondoggle has resulted in the Legal Board of Adjustment approving non-payment claims between State agencies.
According to a report by the Alabama Board of Adjustment, the Board voted to approve 144 claims because the STAARS program failed to allow inter-agency payments equaling, $2,219,676.12.
The Board of Adjustment is an administrative law board, which hears claims against State agencies that are barred from court by sovereign immunity under the State Constitution. In this case, the Board acted much like a small claims court, because inter-agency payments were to be made in Fiscal Year 2015. After the thirteenth month, the agencies can go to the board to, in essence, sue for payment.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler, a member of the Board of Adjustment says, the system is a complete failure. “Can you imagine a system that doesn’t allow you to pay your bills, and then you have to wait until the end of the year, plus a month to make a claim to be paid?”
Zeigler said, even after the board ruled that payments be made, it will still take six more months for the agencies to receive their funds. “This is an unbusinesslike way of operating,” said Zeigler.
The over two million dollars in non-payments range from $99,852.81, made by the State Industrial Development Authority, to a $13.00 payment at Agriculture & Industry Farmers’ Market Authority.
Bentley and Newton promised the State and the Legislature that the statewide accounting program, known as STAARS, would lead to greater efficiencies. “Efficiencies” has been a buzz word used to sell everything from combining agencies, to build four super-max prisons, with a price tag of $800 million in borrowed money. Zeigler, a constant critic of the Bentley Administration, says he hasn’t seen where STAARS has led to these promised efficiencies.
“No. Just the opposite,” said Zeigler. “The State Auditor deals with virtually every State agency on their inventory of State property. We have received dozens of complaints that the STAARS System is unworkable. The pre-STAARS system was old, but it worked. The STAARS System is new, but it does not work.” He lays the blame for the failed system squarely at Newton’s feet. “It is Newton’s $47 million mistake,” said Zeigler. “The new STAARS System in not a continuation of the old contract. Considering it as a continuation of a 30-year contract was simply a legal justification for an illegal action.”
In 2008, then Finance Director, Jim Main, warned that any program like STAARS would have to be contracted through an RFP.
However, Newton ignored Main’s legal opinion and purchased the STAARS system, claiming it was part of a legacy system.
“There needs to be a complete independent investigation of how and why the STAARS Program was purchased and forced on the State of Alabama,” said Ziegler. Ziegler believes that the failed STAARS program is emblematic of the Bentley Administration as a whole. “The Bentley Administration is dysfunctional. It is not working,” said Ziegler. “The STAARS Program is just the most recent example of the disfunction. Bentley officials are in denial. They think they have done nothing wrong.”
Reliable sources within law enforcement have indicated that STAARS, and other actions taken by the State Department of Finance, are well-worthy of investigation.
When The Alabama Political Reporter broke its STAARS investigation in 2015, Bentley and Newton doubled-down on a coverup of how the system was purchased.
Both Bentley and Newton threatened State employees not to speak to the media or face termination.
STAARS continues to cause multiple accounting failures across State agencies. This is just the latest to be uncovered.