COLUMBUS – Despite ample evidence of widespread problems with Ohio’s multi-million dollar liquor inventory system, state officials continue to downplay the extent of the problems – and plan to spend $19 million to try and get the system working properly.
Two years ago, the Ohio Department of Commerce hid records from ProgressOhio. Now, they clearly are hiding information from reporters.
According to a report in Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch:
The new system has been a disaster of inaccurate inventory data, unreliable purchasing orders and incorrect sales information, according to about a dozen distillers, retailers and distributors, as well as state documents.
While acknowledging “there have been problems,’’ state officials told the newspaper that the issues aren’t as severe as retailers and liquor companies say.
Problems with the new system, that uses hand-held scanners to track liquor inventory, were immediate and widespread, according to records obtained by ProgressOhio.
It launched in early 2015. On Feb. 2, 2015, the Commerce Department sent a blast email disclosing “a large number of emails and calls’’ about the new system and a promise to answer each one. On February 12, the department announced this: “Use of the scanners during the order check-in process is being suspended until further notice.’’
In response to complaints from retailers about the new system, ProgressOhio filed a 2016 public records request that sought information about problems with the new system. The state initially provided zero records because it said it had none.
“We knew the state had records because we already had copies of dozens of complaints,’’ said ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis. “We sent a second request and specifically asked for copies of any complaints received.’’
On May 31, 2016, the Commerce Department responded to the second records request by providing a handful of complaints received between March 2015 and March 2016.
Because no retailers would publicly comment, ProgressOhio ended its investigation. Before doing so, however, it obtained 48 pages of complaints – none of which was turned over by the state. Retailers complained about incorrect orders, frustrated customers going to neighboring states to shop, an inability to stock popular items and receipt of items never ordered.
“This new system is for the birds,’’ according to an Aug. 8, 2015, complaint. “I thought this system was supposed to help the agencies not hinder them.’’
According to The Dispatch report, Ohio is spending an additional $19 million to fix what the $21 million system has failed to deliver.
“Since we paid $21 million for a system that never worked properly why are we paying $19 million more,’’ Theis said. “And why has the Kasich administration worked so hard to cover this up?’’