EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 16, 2013

With new support, Zanni again looks at IT privatization

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni’s second term promises to start much like his first — with a push to privatize the municipal Information Technology department.

IT privatization emerged as an early priority for Zanni, who took office in 2012, but the issue appeared dead after the City Council pushed back in opposition three times over the course of 11 months.

During his re-election campaign this fall, however, Zanni promised to resurrect the IT privatization debate during a second term if there is enough support among the new council, which will take office in January.

“If I get a consensus of the council, I’ll definitely move that forward again,” said Zanni. “And I’ll have my ducks in a row.”

It appears Zanni will have the support he’s looking for. The Eagle-Tribune interviewed all nine members of the new council last week and six of them said they want to see the IT department privatized.

Councilors Joyce Campagnone and Lisa Ferry said they remain on the fence. Only Councilor Jamie Atkinson said he is against IT privatization.

“I think the mayor has the votes,” said Councilor Tom Ciulla. “I definitely support privatizing the IT department. There’s definitely been some issues with that department and it’s a good thing for the taxpayers.”

The mayor believes a privately-managed municipal IT department will save money and improve the city’s computer systems. There are currently three employees in the IT department. A fourth position is being funded at $1 as a placeholder. The mayor’s recommended budget for municipal IT this year totaled $666,629.

Municipal IT Director Kingsley Lough declined to answer a reporter’s questions about privatization last week.

“I’d think I rather not talk about that,” said Lough before hanging up the phone.

Zanni’s strongest support for IT privatization may come from the three new members on the council. Like Zanni, Daniel Grayton, James Jajuga and George Kazanjian all voiced support for privatized IT during the campaign.

To Grayton, the fact that all four candidates won election also serves as a referendum on the issue.

“The people have spoken,” Grayton said.

Grayton, Kazanjian and Jajuga all believe IT privatization will save taxpayers money while also increasing the quality of IT services that municipal employees rely on every day to do their jobs.

“I’m definitely in support of that,” added Council Chairman Sean Fountain. “I’m definitely on the same page as (Zanni). I just want to see it implemented properly.”

On Election Night, Kazanjian identified IT privatization as an early priority for the next term. If his support holds, Zanni said last week that he hopes to present a new plan to the council in January.

“I’ll get them all the information they need,” Zanni said.

Ideally, Zanni said a private firm will be in place to provide municipal IT services by July 1. Zanni said he will likely seek approval for an initial one-year contract. If things go well, there will be an option for a three-year extension, he said.

Because savings projections were a sticking point with councilors during the last go-around, Zanni would only say that IT privatization promises “substantial savings” for the city.

The current council either tabled or defeated Zanni’s IT proposals in February and November 2012 and January 2013.

Atkinson said he remains against IT privatization, in part, because Zanni’s prior proposals were plagued by inconsistent savings estimates. Atkinson said he also has a problem with IT assessments being performed by companies also looking to land additional work as a private IT vendor for the city, as was done twice in recent years.

“I’m still against privatizing IT,” said Atkinson. “(Zanni) didn’t prove there would be a cost savings to the city. The numbers were changing.”

Campagnone and Ferry said they are willing to consider another proposal from Zanni.

“I’m open,” said Campagnone. “I say let’s take another look and revisit it. It can’t hurt, that’s for sure.”

“I haven’t seen the proposal,” said Ferry. “If we will save substantial money while maintaining services, I’ll definitely take it under consideration.”