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Past is Prologue with Dynamic Duo; Katopodis/Langford

20 February 2008

Two days running on the front page of the Birmingham News and lead stories on the evening TV news, the hot story is that of Dr. John Katopodis (often mispelled Katapodis) and Mayor Larry Langford and their first endeavor with bringing computers to the community.  The two are also at the heart of the current effort to bring XO computers to Birmingham school children.  The problem is that they have a questionable history of doing this type of project before!

Now, understand this… despite the disparaging remarks in the media, COMPUTER HELP FOR KIDS is still an operating concern and one that does great things.  There are three projects that I worked with them on during my days at TechBirmingham (all during the prior Mayor’s administration):

  • The first TechBirmingham Ecycling Day leveraged their ability to refurbish computers and they lent their 501(c)(3) status to allow donors the ability to take a charitable donation for the old computers turned in that day
  • They loaned 30+ well-equipped computers to last year’s National Math Bee held here in Birmingham
  • And, they refurbished 40 computers donated by Jack Henry’s local office and distributed to those neighborhood presidents who otherwise didn’t own computers so that they could communicate with City Hall by email

That said, my biggest private (now public) gripe with the organization has been with their lucrative relationship with the City and the County.  Each year for many years they have recieved $100K EACH from the two governments annually… yet over a five year period the only monies that TechBirmingham received was a one-time $25K grant from the County out of discretionary funds from the Economic Development commissioner.  TechBirmingham has been focused on growing an entire economy, whereas CHFK was fixing computers.  TechBirmingham struggled to make ends meet and fulfill its mission, whereas (evidently per published reports) CHFK had all the cash they needed to spread money around for questionable and shady expenses.  TechBirmingham had a barebones office and an extensive web presence.  CHFK has lavish offices and NO website beyond the Google listing of their phone number.  <deep sigh!>

Now, fast forward to 2008 and consider that the implications of the same outlandish programs taking several $100,000 to “manage” distribution of the XO computer.  What does this community need with yet *another* non-profit when others are struggling to secure appropriate funding?!?  Wouldn’t it be great if a group like TechBirmingham, instead, was hired to help with the XO laptop project.  The efficiency and their hundreds of committed volunteers would be a great benefit to a project such as the XO computers for our City’s children.

But, why change the way things have always been done?  The past is truly prologue with these actors!!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 February 2008 9:48 pm

    Thanks for the link!

  2. Southtrek permalink
    21 February 2008 9:26 am

    The story really sounds juicy but what I’d really like to know is how many of those recycled computers found their way to the people they were intended for? What was the cost per unit in making them available? How many of those computers found their way to the politically connected?

  3. 21 February 2008 9:59 am

    @Southtrek… oh, absolutely. The “per unit” cost with such lavish overhead is probably out of kilter with most other refurbishment operations. RAMP Technologies at the Center for Urban Missions does a much better job at it… choosing to train young people to refurbish their computers rather than pay salaries to college students.

  4. Southtrek permalink
    21 February 2008 1:24 pm

    “….rather than pay salaries to college students.”

    or porn stars.

  5. 25 February 2008 1:16 pm

    I echo your sentiments… maybe we can start a wave of support for TechBham taking over the XO project. Then, and only then, will I have confidence that it will be done correctly.

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