EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2012

City Council pulls plug on Zanni's IT plan

By Brian Messenger bmessenger@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — METHUEN — For the second time this year, the City Council has rejected Mayor Stephen Zanni’s push for a privatized information technology department.

Seven of nine councilors voted against a measure last night that, if approved, would have cleared the way for a public hearing and eventual deciding vote on IT privatization.

Instead, the council effectively killed the mayor’s proposed reorganization of the four-employee municipal IT department — some nine months after nixing Zanni’s first attempt to hire a private IT company.

“They canned everything,” said Zanni last night. “I’m very disappointed. I felt this was a good plan. I’m sorry to see the council could not see it that way. It definitely would have benefited the city and the taxpayers.”

Zanni said the city would save $485,000 over the next four and a half years by eliminating the existing IT department and contracting instead with the private firm Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood.

The plan called for the layoff of three municipal IT employees. But several councilors said last night they would rather see the city pay for upgraded computers and equipment before making sweeping management changes.

City Councilor Sean Fountain said the city’s computer equipment is “antiquated and outdated.”

“I think (Zanni’s) on track here,” said Fountain. “I just think we need to upgrade what we have before we let it go. The utilization of new equipment will make a big difference with how we operate.”

“The equipment is old,” added Councilor Jamie Atkinson. “It doesn’t work well and needs to be replaced.”

Councilor Michael Condon said he wasn’t comfortable laying off the three employees — IT director Kingsley Lough, Network Administrator Bill Lasonde, and Information Systems Technician Peter Stone.

“I’m for the in-house guys,” said Condon. “It’s just hard for me to put three people out of work in these times. I think all these people need are the money and the tools.”

Voting in the minority last night were councilors Jeanne Pappalardo and Ron Marsan.

Zanni selected Corporate IT Solutions with the assistance of a three-member City Council subcommittee. Several company representatives attended the council meeting last night and a short presentation was given.

Before the vote, Atkinson said the Methuen Finance Committee determined earlier in the day that Zanni’s plan was not financially beneficial for the city. Finance Committee members include Atkinson and councilors Joyce Campagnone and Lisa Ferry.

The municipal IT department budget is $631,000. Zanni said his plan would save taxpayers between $92,000 and $130,000 annually over the next four years.

“The decision they made was not in the best interest of the city,” said Zanni. “It’s a hard vote when you have to lay off people, but I think they need to look beyond that.”

Holding out hope for his plan, Zanni said he disagrees with the council’s and City Solicitor Peter McQuillan’s contention that a council vote was needed to trigger a public hearing.

Zanni told councilors he spoke to two lawyers yesterday who have a different take on what is called for in the city charter.

“You have a 7-2 vote here,” countered Kannan last night. “The city is going to stand on that.”