Nov. 4 2015 03:35 PM

Documents reveal more contractor-paid outings for county IT staff

Newly released documents from Ingham County show a more extensive web of “favors” taken by its Information Technology Department deputies who took gifts from contractors and sought to mask a junket by calling it a “product reviews.”

Former IT deputy Vincent Foess, now the county’s interim chief information officer, and another deputy, Frank Chain, participated in a contractor-paid golf outing in 2014, documents indicate.

In 2015, Foess attended a similar event sponsored by technology vendor ISI, which based in Wyoming, Mich. Ingham County Controller/Administrator Tim Dolehanty said Foess was docked eight hours of vacation time for being out of the office that day. He said Foess had filed a verbal complaint to attending the outing with his former boss, Michael Ashton, who he said ordered him to participate. Ashton was fired last month for violating the county’s ethics policy.

That policy states: “The County’s employees, directors, appointed or elected officials, volunteers, or agents shall neither solicit nor accept gratuities, favors, gifts, consulting fees, trips, or anything having a monetary value in excess of twenty-five dollars ($25.00) from a vendor, potential vendor, from the family or employees of a vendor, contractors or parties to subcontracts.”

ISI has been responsible for technology hardware such as laptops and servers, as well as handling the county’s switch to CISCO Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone services earlier this year. ISI has a contract with the county for $1.6 million.

County emails, obtained using Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act laws, also indicate that Chain, the IT Department’s project manager, joined Ashton in attending a Red Wings event hosted by Comcast in March of this year. While Foess was copied on the emails about the event, he did not attend.

The emails reveal Chain and Ashton attended the event with their sons. In the emails, Ashton tells Chain not to “broadcast” that the event was free. When Chain emailed to confirm they were going to attend, Ashton said to call the event a “product review.”

There are also emails between Chain and Comcast related to his home Internet services. It is unclear from the context what Chain was seeking or why he used the county’s business contact to assist him.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Chain referred all questions to Dolehanty. Foess did not respond to an email inquiry.

Dolehanty said Monday he had not yet had an opportunity to review the new cache of documents which were released on Friday. He declined to discuss what if any impact the new emails would have on what he referred to as an ongoing internal investigation related to breaches of the county’s ethics policy.

As a result of Ashton’s dismissal, Foess went from making $76,732 as the deputy chief information officer, to $96,643 as the interim CIO.

As City Pulse reported last week, Michael Ashton, the former chief information officer of Ingham County, was fired from his post — where he made $110,824 a year — because he had taken at least eight substantial gifts of tickets and travel junkets to attend professional sporting events.

The new documents also revealed that Ashton used his position and the county’s relationship with ISI to purchase a Google Chromebook for his son. County officials said paperwork related to that purchase shows Ashton paid for the computer on is own, but it was shipped — along with four others Chromebooks purchased for county use — to the county. The new documents did not show what he paid for the laptop computer versus the retail rate.

Dolehanty said he would be reviewing that purchase and trying to “untangle” it as his investigation continues.

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