By Randy Pierce
In order to preserve vital court documents that may be subject to deterioration over a period of time if they are retained in other forms, the office of Madison County Circuit Clerk Tom McRae is taking on the conversion of them to digitized files.
As a result of the unanimous approval by the Madison County Board at its most recent meeting, the circuit clerk’s department has received authorization to move forward with this effort which will consist of having records that are currently on paper, microfilm or microfiche changed to Portable Document Format files.
This approach is being taken, according to McRae, because those files as they currently exist can be subject to degradation and this process will enable them to be more permanently preserved.
Yet another advantage to doing this, he added, is that since most court records are required to be made accessible to the public, digitizing them will make them more readily searchable online as opposed to individuals having to view them in person.
The county board’s approval for entering into a contract with a business called The Crowley Group at a cost of $154,379 had been reviewed and okayed by its judiciary, finance and government relations committees prior to being brought forward for final consideration.
When initially introduced for the judiciary committee by the county’s director of information technology, Brian Davis, he explained that over 12 vendors had responded to requests for proposals with their broad-ranging quotes not all being presented in lump sum bid form.
Some of those businesses, Davis explained, charge their fees based on the number of images they convert but the circuit clerk’s office had no specific such total to use in calculating the final cost in those instances.
The review of the vendor qualifications included meeting with Crowley representatives and three or four others, Davis said, to make sure they were qualified to complete the task as proposed.
In commenting that the review process outcome made the appropriate county officials “really happy with it,” Davis added that those involved “never would have dreamed” the costs quoted would go all the way from Crowley’s $154,000-plus to $5.5 million.
The project expense will be funded by a share of the American Rescue Plan Act funds received by Madison County, the same program which provided personal “stimulus checks” to the nation’s residents from a $1.9 trillion economic package proposed by President Joe Biden to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent ongoing recession.
That federal legislation, after being reviewed and acted upon at various levels in Washington, D.C., was passed by the United States House of Representatives on March 10, 2021, by a vote of 220–211 then signed into law by President Biden the next day which was the first anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
In regard to the wide variance in the suggested prices that surfaced, during the judiciary committee meeting when Davis was asked if all of the vendors coming forward fully understood what was involved, he answered he could not completely address why the bid differences were so pronounced but added that some of the additional costs came from those who had wished to use their own software to access the county documents, which is not really necessary to achieve the goal as intended, while some also wanted to incorporate “cloud storage” into the work they would do, again a process that is not needed.
Davis further stated he felt some of the vendors did not completely read through or understand the request for proposal information then quickly put together a bid package as their response. In answer to another question, Davis said it was his understanding the contractor would do any additional work needed without adding to the proposed cost.