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Mayor: City Needs Tech Upgrade

by Paul Bass | May 2, 2013 5:08 pm

(15) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Westville, City Budget

Paul Bass Photo Mayor John DeStefano’s computer runs on 10-year-old software. That’s part of a larger tech problem at City Hall.

Mayor DeStefano (pictured) offered that view at a neighborhood budget presentation Wednesday night.

He spoke with 15 people at Westville’s Mitchell Library, one stop in a series of community presentations he’s making about his proposed $503 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“Technology worries me. Technology is an area where I haven’t done as well as I might have in persuading” lawmakers to spend more money over the years, DeStefano said.

The first part of the presentation was a PowerPoint-assisted overview of the budget and recent trends in city government. Click here to read about the budget; here to see the slides DeStefano displayed.

One piece of welcome news: DeStefano originally projected that local property taxes could rise as much as 12 percent if all of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed state cuts in municipal aid were to become law. A $14.2 million chunk of that aid now appears safe from cuts—because the legislature’s Appropriations Committee (chaired by New Haven’s “two Tonis,” state Rep. Toni Walker and state Sen. Toni Harp) killed the governor’s plan to end motor vehicle taxes. City property taxes could still rise as much as 6 percent (or 4.43 mills, or $665 on a $150,000 house), though the Board of Aldermen is expected to seek to slash that figure as it reviews and amends the budget in coming weeks.

After the PowerPoint DeStefano fielded questions—which led to reflections on where city government will, or should, head in years ahead.

One place it needs to head, DeStefano argued: The modern age, when it comes to computers.

Antiquated systems—or in some cases no use of computers—lead to productivity losses and inadequate data-sharing throughout government, DeStefano said. Asked for examples, he spoke of how the school system should keep electronic medical records that can be coordinated with clinic and hospital records. He said the police department should be able to access many more kinds of data about incidents over the years at each specific street address in town.

Asked about education spending, DeStefano spoke of a new round of teacher contract negotiations that will begin later this year (to take effect in subsequent years).

The Board of Education will be looking for savings on health care, he predicted, as it has with other unions. The state covers pensions for city teachers, so that issue is off the table.

The board will also look to reexamine the “large number” of New Haven’s 1,800 teachers who have assignments outside the classroom, DeStefano said. He called those assignments—as coaches or specialists—“appropriate” but ripe for renewed discussion.

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posted by: Curious on May 2, 2013  3:18pm

I’ve never understood why the Knights of Columbus aren’t more involved with or generous towards New Haven. It’s the world headquarters of a service organization.  I’ve never seen a KoC fundraiser or charity event publicized in town.

posted by: robn on May 2, 2013  3:50pm

Ordinarily I’d be sympathetic to the mayors sentiment about improving our tech but having personally interacted with a front line city employee who was incapable of zooming and scrolling through a PDF, I wonder if we’re just not leveraging the basic software suites we already have.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on May 2, 2013  4:41pm

I hate to admit this, but this is and will probably be the first and last time that I agree with the mayor.

As someone who sees things on the inside, I cannot begin to understand how they just didn’t keep up with technology. Don’t believe me? Go visit these schools (not the newly built ones), 200 Orange, and visit behind the walls of the New Haven Police Department. Technology will slap you in the face lol, and I am not someone who doesn’t have any expertise. I have 14yrs of experience and I have a CS degree.

I wonder what everyone else take is on the city and technology.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 2, 2013  4:41pm

Technology should be used to cut expenses and trim the payroll. Let’s be very honest - what lawmakers has DeStefano not been successful in getting them to agree to make those investments? The BOA? He’s run over them for 20 years. There are no other lawmakers necessary to upgrade technology.

Other cities are filing police reports online; filing police complaints online; seeing the results of those investigations online; pulling building permits online and so much more. The only reason we haven’t upgraded the software and systems is because Mr. DeStefano hasn’t proposed it or included it in his budgets. It’s not just about having the data - it’s using it to get more efficient, cut headcounts. That’s something he’s not interested in doing. And just a word about medical records - it is hard to understand why in the world the school system needs to have access to any medical records other than the basics - immunization etc.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on May 2, 2013  9:12pm

@Noteworthy:

You made valid points. I agree!

posted by: Ira S on May 2, 2013  11:51pm

I would dispute the notion that goal of technology is to cut expenses and trim the payroll.  That may well be a side effect of incorporating technology into government’s strategic plan, but it is the wrong goal to focus on.

Technology should be used to increase productivity and drive efficiency throughout the city agencies.  It should provide both government workers and residents/businesses the ability to interact and communicate as painlessly as possible.  Filing out reports online is great, but the ability to do so without an enterprise-wide(city government wide) strategic tech plan is a missed opportunity.

I started my career, and was with CoNH IT for close to 10 years.  There are some very dedicated, talented people within those ranks who are capable of great things.  My opinion is that the City’s technology resources were never properly aligned with any overall city goals and became an afterthought.  Mayor DeStefano has proven the ability to push policy initiatives by defining and selling his vision to the lawmakers who spend money. The vision was never really there on an executive level for citywide technology revitalization efforts.  Projects were initiated and implemented (mostly) on an agency by agency basis, satisfying specific needs, but at the expense of the bigger picture. (Thats not to say that this has not changed in the past 5 years.  I can’t speak to that as I have no insight into current plans).

In any case, my critique is optimistic.  This has now been identified as an operational weakness and is being discussed.  I’m hopeful that an actionable course of improvement will be the result.

posted by: robn on May 3, 2013  8:28am

I agree with IRAS. Give people decent tools, the knowledge to use them, and most importantly promote inquisitiveness. When you’re talking about tech you’re usually talking about data , however the gathering and existence of data is less important than what it means.

posted by: streever on May 3, 2013  8:32am

It isn’t that he hasn’t persuaded lawmakers: he has spent poorly.

The IT department is a mess. The city can’t accept credit card payments online for simple expenses. The city website is horribly broken and terribly organized.

Yet, the amount we spend on an IT head and department per the budget is more than many e-commerce companies spend, even e-commerce firms that manage 10s of 1000s of customer transactions and records.

It isn’t that he doesn’t have the $$$: he has spent it on senior employees who have been with the City forever, have not learned how modern computing works, and are probably not going to learn.

The city website fails basic tests for accessibility and user experience. It is really bizarre that this is listed as a finances problem and not a management problem.

Long before any fallings out with the city, I offered to help them install and upgrade 9-1-1 systems like those that the town of New Haven, Indiana has (http://www.newhavenin.org/egov/docs/117029709682.htm)

I did the research, got pricing from the vendor of the software, and sent information to the city.

They thanked me and told me instead, they wanted me to come and see how awesome of a job they already do, and the internal programs they are working on.

What? Look, I offered to help because as a citizen I have seen the system not work. I don’t want to get to be a cheerleader, I want to do something meaningful.

Where this city is performing poorly, it is often managed poorly.

posted by: speakingthetruth on May 3, 2013  9:07am

The lack of technology in the NHPS is abysmal.  Antiquated computers, old technology in general, super small tech department, mysterious budget etc.  If the higher ups preach STEM, technological awareness and proficiency for all students then you need to put your money where your mouth is and provide adequate technology to ALL schools…not just those who have connected principals.  Its sad and sickening.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on May 3, 2013  10:41am

@streever: BINGOOOOO. You hit it right on the nose my friend!!! Totally agree

@speakingthetruth: You are sooo correct about antiquated computers in the school system. I think NHI should go visit some of these schools and look at how old the computers are. They are using CRT monitors and so on.

@Ira S: You said, “I started my career, and was with CoNH IT for close to 10 years.  There are some very dedicated, talented people within those ranks who are capable of great things” Can I ask you what type of IT background and education you have because if you think the IT department for the city of new haven is great, I would like to know what a horrible IT dept. looks like lol. That IT department is literally 10 years back.

(excuse any typos)

posted by: Ira S on May 3, 2013  1:07pm

@IloveMYcity203 - Can I ask what your qualifications are for judging my credentials?  I currently hold an executive level IT position with a city agency in another municipality.  (my views expressed here are my own and I am not speaking in any official capacity).

In any case, I never said I “think the IT department for the city of new haven is great”.  I said that my former colleagues are capable of great things.  I also noted the lack of executive vision re: technology.  The difference between this capacity and the achievement of the strategic/tactical goals of the City would provide for a very interesting gap analysis which would far exceed the 400 word limit provided here.

It comes down to vision, planning, resources and funding.  I cannot speak to the current state of IT in New Haven as I am 5 years removed from any direct knowledge about the operations (though that doesn’t stop many commenters from 2nd guessing, apparently).  The group of summer interns I plan on hosting this summer is nearly half the size of New Haven’s IT department.  Look at the number of IT professionals who work for the city then factor in the amount of desktops/laptops/mobile devices deployed.  The break/fix role alone can become overwhelming.

I agree with @streever regarding the website.  I think his comment re: the 911 might be a tad oversimplistic, once you take in to consideration all of the ‘moving parts’ involved in the police/fire dispatch operation. With only 150 words available and my lunch hour ending, thats a debate for another time.

posted by: formerNHIT on May 4, 2013  12:45pm

Streever:

I worked for the city and left some years ago for a better opportunity.  I believe you are being unfair in your discussion concerning city IT and placing too much blame on the IT department.  You are taking shots at easy targets that are in a situation outside of their control.

“The IT department is a mess. The city can’t accept credit card payments online for simple expenses. The city website is horribly broken and terribly organized.”

I agree with you about the above.  However keep in mind that the mayor has not funded the IT department properly for staff or projects and there has been a net loss in City IT staff over time as staffers have left for other jobs or retired.  He complains about his IT department but does nothing to bolster the staff or fund the projects.  His management technique is more stick then carrot and thus most of the responsibility is his.  He has not, in my opinion, been a motivational leader or a good manager.

Just keeping the current technology up and running has become more and more of a concern and NH IT staff has been forced to focus on that.  It’s hard for them to be visionaries when they need to focus all their time on keeping legacy equipment and software running.

“Yet, the amount we spend on an IT head and department per the budget is more than many e-commerce companies spend, even e-commerce firms that manage 10s of 1000s of customer transactions and records.”

The city IT head makes, on average 30% less per year then his counterparts at similar sized cities, he has multiple managers that he is responsible to and a thankless job.  He is in a no win situation and yet continues to keep the systems running while dealing with unfounded criticism from folks like you.


I have worked with the IT head for some years.  I usually never post here but I felt I needed to defend his team.  They are hard working professionals and they care about the city.

posted by: streever on May 4, 2013  3:02pm

formerNHIT:
Where are the budget requests that the director should have been making? Are they filed somewhere? Did he ever present what he needs?

Can you show me the documentation?

Being a director isn’t about keeping a ship running: it is also about being proactive and asking for help when needed. Unless you have any documentation of the Director’s requests for budget increases—demonstrating what assets were needed—I’m not very sympathetic.

I don’t think you are a good director if you just keep things running. That isn’t part of the job description. Strategic and tactical planning are both part of the job, and I don’t see much of that from city Directors.

At least, if it happens, they are violating federal law by not documenting it: can you FOI me some evidence that shows that the current director was communicating his need for increased resources?

posted by: RCguy on May 4, 2013  3:21pm

Ouch!

http://www.newhavenin.org/egov/apps/events/calendar.egov?path=03&search_timeframe=180&id=163&search_timeframe=180

Double ouch!


But a cool city website nonetheless.

posted by: Ira S on May 4, 2013  7:45pm

@streever - You could always FOI it yourself if you are so inclined, not sure where the burden of proof lays for article comments.  In my previous position with CoNH IT I’ve sat in on the planning sessions for budget requests, both with the current director and previous director.

In retrospect, New Haven operates somewhat oddly to me.  All the $ is centrally controlled and both project and personnel cuts happen at the executive level.  Compare that to my current employer (another city government).  Each agency has a yearly budget, broken down to personnel services (‘PS’, basically payroll) and other than personnel services (‘OTPS’, covers everything else from rent to yearly expenses, car maintenance, travel, technology upgrades, etc).  Capital funding for larger projects rounds that out.  Each agency directly controls their budget.  Each year we attribute $ amounts to each category of purchase, it is reviewed and approved by Finance, and then modified throughout the year as needed.  When cuts (either PS or OTPS) are needed based on the city’s financial health each agency is given a percentage to cut.  What/how the cuts are made are left up to the individual agency.  Which positions are eliminated, which projects receive reduced funding, etc, are made at the agency (equivalent to NH’s ‘departments’) level.  To me it is a more rational way of doing things, leaves more discretion to the directors/agency heads who better understand the direct impacts the cuts will have.

In New Haven, cuts seemed much more arbitrary and department director had less control over what was cut.  Stands to reason that if technology wasn’t a focus of this administration then regardless of how proficient the technology director may be, initiatives wouldn’t receive funding.

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