published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Ex-aide to Ron Littlefield back at old job with Chattanooga’s former wireless network contractor

Chattanooga’s former wireless network contractor has hired a former mayoral chief of staff, deepening a relationship that City Council members have criticized as being too cozy.

Dan Johnson, chief of staff to former Mayor Ron Littlefield, said on Tuesday that Excalibur Integrated Systems hired him on an indefinte contract to update the company’s books. Johnson denied that the job was payback for his helping Excalibur, headed by his friend Rodger Dale Jenkins, obtain a city contract worth millions of dollars.

“There are people who think there is a conspiracy behind every bush,” Johnson said after answering the phone at Excalibur.

“Nothing whatsoever was done with favoritism toward Excalibur. Rodger was a friend, was then, was before and is now, but everything was done according to the purchasing rules of the city,” he said.

Johnson said there’s nothing unusual about having an office, desk, computer and phone number in a client’s building when doing a long-term job. As a CPA, he originally set up the accounting ledgers for Excalibur when he was previously employed by Jenkins, before he began working for the city.

“I set up their books 35, 30 years ago, and they’ve been the same ever since, and they needed revision,” Johnson said.

Jenkins bristles at the idea that he’s done anything improper by contracting with his friend and former accountant.

“It wasn’t a good-old-boy network, we earned that business,” Jenkins said. “We have nothing to hide. Should I be disallowed from bidding on contracts because I have friends?”

City Councilman Chris Anderson is not convinced. At a recent City Council meeting to discuss the Wi-Fi contract, Jenkins seemed evasive, Anderson said.

“He was very hard to pin down, even when we got him in council, and even though he had Dan Johnson mouthing him answers from the front row,” Anderson said. “That’s the only City Council meeting Dan’s been to since the new administration took over, and Dan Johnson was the primary person pushing through Excalibur contracts.”

A 2011 city audit found only minor irregularities with Exclaibur’s contract. Documents submitted to the City Council show that Excalibur had the lowest of three final bids when it originally won the city contract.

Yet City Council members this year began to question what they saw as loose performance standards, calling for the city not to renew the contract. The contract, which has since been terminated, awarded Excalibur $20,000 per month to maintain the city’s Wi-Fi network.

“The contract, as it was originally written, didn’t have any hard results that Excalibur had to deliver,” said Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn. “If you extrapolate their bids out so we could cover the entire city, we could be talking $750 million.”

Excalibur’s website, which still lists the city as a client, displays a testimonial by Johnson in his capacity as chief of staff praising Excalibur as a “trusted advisor and provider of technology-related solutions.”

“The city’s wireless mesh system has attracted worldwide attention to Chattanooga’s cutting-edge use of technology,” Johnson wrote, citing “over 60 wireless applications.”

City officials have said the actual number of uses today is closer to five. The list of ongoing uses include laptops in police cars, citywide LED lighting, an intelligent traffic system and several smaller projects.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or esmith@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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