The fight between Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni and the City Council over the mayor’s proposal to privatize the Information Technology department seems to have no end. But it is clear now that the council has yet to give the plan a clear and proper hearing.
The council should do so. It is the duty of the City Council to give all of the mayor’s proposals fair consideration. Once it has done so with the IT department privatization plan, then the council can rightly vote the proposal up or down.
Mayor Zanni wants to lay off three of the four employees of the IT department — IT Director Kingsley Lough, Network Administrator Bill Lasonde, and Information Systems Technician Peter Stone — and hire a private company to run the city’s information services. Zanni says the restructuring would save Methuen $485,000 over the next four and a half years and improve services.
The City Council has already voted down two versions of the privatization plan. In February, Zanni proposed hiring RetroFit Technologies Inc. of Milford. The idea was rejected by councilors, who said the proposal should be put out to bid. Zanni and a subcommittee of three council members then selected Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood to take over the information technology services. In early November, the council voted 7-2 against Zanni’s plan. Several councilors said they would rather see the city pay for upgraded computers and equipment before making such a major change.
It appeared that vote killed Zanni’s privatization proposal for good. But then the mayor began arguing that the council had not followed the city charter in rejecting the proposal. Zanni said the charter requires the council to hold a public hearing on restructuring proposals before voting to accept or reject them.
City Solicitor Peter McQuillan concurred in a memo sent to City Council Chairman Jennifer Kannan on Nov. 15.
“Although this provision of the charter like others is neither precise nor clear in its language, I believe that the intent ... is to provide a public hearing on any reorganization plan given the nature of the measure and its impact on the city and its citizens,” McQuillan wrote.
The relevant section of the charter does not seem so ambiguous to us.
“Every such reorganization plan shall ... be referred to an appropriate committee of the City Council which shall, not more than thirty days later, hold a public hearing on the matter and shall, within ten days following such hearing, report either that it approves or that it disapproves of the plan,” reads the charter.
It’s clear that the City Council “shall” hold a public hearing within 30 days of receiving a reorganization plan.
Council Chairman Kannan said she’s standing by the earlier 7-2 vote. But she doesn’t have a foundation in the charter to stand on.
The City Council should call a public hearing on the privatization plan. Let’s hear what the public has to say about the proposal. Give the privatization plan an honest hearing. Find out what the public thinks about it. Then the council can take its vote to accept or reject it.
Both sides in this fight — the mayor and the city councilors — need to set aside personal concerns over who will “win” this privatization fight and do what’s best for the people of Methuen. That starts with listening to what the people of Methuen think about this idea.