EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 4, 2012

Push for privatized IT will continue in Methuen

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni will get his public hearing on IT privatization after all.

A three-member City Council subcommittee formed Monday has been authorized to set up a public hearing regarding the mayor’s proposal to eliminate the municipal Information Technology department and replace it with services from a private firm.

Subcommittee member Sean Fountain said the hearing will likely take place this month. A deciding council vote on Zanni’s IT plan would then occur in January, he said.

“It will either go up or down once and for all after the public hearing,” said Fountain. “The end of the road is coming up fast.”

Monday’s decision to go forward with a public hearing capped off weeks of confusion.

It was initially believed a 7-2 council vote on Nov. 5 killed the mayor’s proposed “reorganization” of the four-employee IT department. But Zanni contended a public hearing should have been held before the vote. The mayor’s belief was affirmed 10 days later by City Solicitor Peter McQuillan in a confidential memo to City Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan.

In question is a section of the city charter titled “Reorganization Plans by Mayor.” McQuillan wrote to Kannan that disapproval of such reorganization plans “can only occur after a public hearing.”

Zanni believes the city will save $485,000 over the next 4 1/2 years by eliminating the IT department and contracting instead with the private firm Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood.

Zanni selected Corporate IT Solutions with the assistance of a three-member City Council subcommittee. His previous push to hire RetroFit Technologies, Inc. of Milford in February was rejected by councilors, who said the proposal should be put out to bid.

The public hearing will feature a presentation by representatives from Corporate IT Solutions. The new subcommittee formed Monday to schedule the public hearing also includes councilors Jeanne Pappalardo and Tom Ciulla.

“The Methuen citizens have that right to hear what the mayor has to bring forward,” said Pappalardo. “The process now is going to be done properly.”

“The sooner the better,” said Ciulla. “I want to get it done. ... I think the process could have been handled better.”

Councilors on Monday also approved a $158,000 grant that will be used to update the city’s computer servers. Zanni said Corporate IT Solutions will perform the work, reducing the number of servers from 28 to three by the end of January.

“It will take an old system and bring it up to speed,” said Zanni.

Zanni said problems exist with both the IT department’s equipment and management.

“The public should have an opportunity to hear this — the advantages and the disadvantages,” said Zanni. “A public hearing will be a good thing.”

Zanni’s IT plan was not posted on Monday’s meeting agenda. But councilors discussed it for close to 15 minutes anyway.

“It’s not an agenda item,” warned City Solicitor Peter McQuillan. “I’m concerned about discussing it at length.”