By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — After a year of fits and starts, Mayor Stephen Zanni’s push for IT privatization is slated for a deciding vote in January.
The City Council will host a public hearing Jan. 3 featuring a presentation by Corporate IT Solutions. The mayor wants to eliminate the four-employee municipal Information Technology department and replace it with services from the private firm.
Zanni believes the city will save $485,000 over the next 4 1/2 years as a result.
The public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Following the hearing, the council will have 10 days to vote on Zanni’s plan.
“I’m asking all concerned citizens to show up and give their remarks,” said Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo. “We want to hear from the public. That’s what it’s all about.”
IT privatization has become a top priority for Zanni during his first year in office. But it’s grown into a contentious issue.
“If we can save by privatizing versus in-house and it becomes more efficient, I’m going to move in that direction,” Zanni told The Eagle-Tribune in January. “If we can streamline government and make it more efficient, saving taxpayer money, that’s what I’m here for.”
The IT effort was first broached by former City Councilor Jim Hajjar during summer 2011 budget talks. At the City Council’s request, former Mayor William Manzi selected RetroFit Technologies, Inc., of Milford, to conduct an IT study.
In its report, RetroFit recommended privatization and pointed out a number of problems or shortcomings with the city’s IT services.
Zanni moved quickly on IT outsourcing after taking over for Manzi at the beginning of this year.
A City Council workshop was held Jan. 30 to discuss the IT Department. Then in February, Zanni’s proposal to hire RetroFit as a replacement for in-house IT services was rejected by councilors, who said the proposal should be put out to bid.
The mayor countered by sending out requests for private IT services to 25 firms on the state’s approved bid list. He also formed a three-member council subcommittee in March to review the responses.
The city received six responses and Zanni eventually selected Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood with the help of the subcommittee.
Zanni then presented an IT “reorganization” plan to the council on Nov. 5. It was initially believed a 7-2 vote that night killed the mayor’s plan. But Zanni contended a public hearing should have been held before the vote. That was affirmed 10 days later by City Solicitor Peter McQuillan in a confidential memo to City Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan.
In question was 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.”
Capping weeks of confusion, a new three-member council subcommittee was formed Dec. 3 to set up the public hearing. Members include Pappalardo, Tom Ciulla and Sean Fountain.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Fountain. “I know a lot of us want to get this hearing going as soon as possible.”