City officials tour ADP data processing business

In a continued push to win a $2.4 million annual contract with the city of Augusta, Automatic Data Processing invited the entire Augusta Commission to a meeting at its local facility Wednesday.

The global human resources outsourcing firm, however, overlooked the fact that meetings of the commission are required by Georgia law to be open to the public.

An ADP staffer sent to the door of the glassy complex on Flowing Wells Road to shoo three news crews away said that he was unfamiliar with Georgia open meetings laws but that it was ADP policy to refuse all media access because of the presence of proprietary and confidential information inside the call center, which employs about 800 people.

City Clerk Lena Bonner, aware of open meetings requirements, notified news outlets in advance about the meeting and its agenda, which included information about “how ADP will help city workers develop new skills and more rewarding careers,” a tour of the facilities, and meetings with local and national ADP leaders.

Only two commission members initially responded to the invitation, however, making the tour not a quorum “to fit within the scope of the meetings act requirement,” said the city’s general counsel, Andrew Mac­Kenzie.

ADP government and education leader John Joaquin, who spoke briefly to reporters remaining at the end of the two-hour meeting, said handling of the day’s events had been approved by the city law department.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who attended the meeting, said when a third commissioner – Matt Aitken – arrived at ADP later, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles left to avoid a quorum of the city’s public services committee.

Guilfoyle said that it was “too bad” the media weren’t present but that he remains impressed with the outsourcing giant’s capacity to manage Augusta payroll, employee leave, health and other benefits, timekeeping and attendance.

“There’s nothing I can say negative about ADP,” Guilfoyle said. “It’s not only HR; it’s them in the community. It was a very impressive meeting; great dialogue. It’s a professionally run company.”

Guilfoyle was referring to the jobs ADP provides Augustans at the center and its community outreach. It donates to area causes and, giving $64,333, was the second-largest corporate donor to Paine College, the college’s 2010 annual report says.

It also promised $233,000 apiece annually to Augusta State University, Augusta Technical College and Paine for student scholarships in the math, science and technology fields, according to an April news release.

Despite the goodwill, the firm has not been embraced by all on the commission, which has postponed approving a contract with the firm for months.

Guilfoyle said a few of his questions had been answered at the meeting, including one about the number of in-house staffers the city needs to retain after contracting with ADP.

Previous literature distributed to commissioners indicated ADP sought to pay former Augusta Human Resources Director Rod Powell $60,000 annually to serve as “project manager” to report to the commission and represent its interests before ADP.

Powell retired from the city last year but remains on the payroll as a consultant.

City Administrator Fred Russell, who attended the meeting with two deputy administrators, MacKenzie and a human resources employee, said he would have advised the commission not to meet if a quorum had showed up.

ADP “feels they offer a good product at a good price,” Russell said.

At a commission meeting Tuesday, Russell detailed the annual cost of contracting with ADP: $2.4 million for the first five years until software is paid off and $2 million annually each subsequent year.

At least two elected Augusta department heads have expressed their concerns related to expanding ADP’s involvement in city payroll.

Richmond County Marshal Steve Smith said his employees continue to keep dual paper and time clock records, despite implementing ADP’s time tracking system last year.

The only explanation he has been given is that a computerized ADP payroll system has yet to be implemented, Smith said.

“Instead of relieving us of paperwork, it’s just added another part to it,” he said.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said that although his department handles much of its human resources in house, implementing ADP’s time clock system isn’t feasible with 75 percent of his staffers, who respond as needed when a crime occurs.

In addition, his staff is concerned about being paid salaries and benefits properly and timely.

“I hope the commission will not go into something without being given enough information,” he said.

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