EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 8, 2013

Game Over: Council rejects Zanni's IT plan

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The City Council last night rejected the mayor’s push for a privatized municipal IT department, calling into question his long-term savings projections after they increased dramatically in recent weeks.

Mayor Stephen Zanni spent much of his first year in office advocating for the replacement of the four-employee Information Technology department with a private firm. But his claim that the city would save $925,224 over the next five years by hiring Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood was not enough to convince councilors, who voted 6-3 to reject his IT reorganization plan.

Voting in favor of the plan were councilors Jeanne Pappalardo, Ron Marsan and Tom Ciulla. It appeared Zanni knew his proposal would fail last night, as he read aloud from a press release immediately after the vote.

“Individual agendas have triumphed over the city’s interest here, overpowering any sense of obligation to the taxpayer,” said Zanni. “The writing was on the wall over a year ago, but even in the face of setbacks, I diligently worked to put forward a proposal with the hope that the city’s best interest would prevail once all the facts were considered.”

While running for mayor in 2011, Zanni said he promised to look for opportunities to privatize services “where it made sense to do so.”

“What is the answer here?” said Zanni. “Council wins, taxpayer and community lose.”

In early December, Zanni projected $485,000 in savings over 4 1/2 years under his IT plan. But he revised it Dec. 17 to $925,224 over five years. The change immediately drew skepticism from city councilors and their questions remained last night.

“The numbers changed so often,” said City Councilor Tom Ciulla. “If someone gives you a set of numbers, it should stay. ... It shouldn’t fluctuate.”

Councilors also called into question the assessment of the IT department, which was performed in the fall by Corporate IT Solutions.

“To me it’s a very biased assessment,” said Councilor Jamie Atkinson. “It’s done by the company that was getting the job.”

The mayor’s plan called for the layoff of three of the four municipal IT employees — IT director Kingsley Lough, Network Administrator Bill Lasonde, and Information Systems Technician Peter Stone.

At a public hearing last week, Kannan said representatives of Corporate IT Solutions claimed they interviewed all of Methuen’s IT employees during their assessment. But when Kannan called on Lough and Lasonde to speak last night, both said they were never interviewed by the company.

“These people stood in front of all nine of us,” said Kannan. “I will not be lied to.”

Zanni hoped to pay Corporate IT Solutions $204,036 per year to manage the city’s IT needs. Councilor Michael Condon said he suspected additional fees for after-hours service were buried deep within the contract.

Condon also offered a broader criticism of Zanni, questioning the mayor’s handling of the city ambulance-rate increase, which was delayed for several months, as well as the escalating cost of floor repairs at the Central Fire Station on Lowell Street.

“I respect Mr. Zanni. He’s a gentleman,” said Condon. “But the way some of these things have been handled, it’s just unbelievable.”