Council Splits on IT Decision
At issue is the establishment by ordinance of the title of director of data processing, with a maximum salary of $130,400. As a full house of citizens looked on in City Hall Library, council members wrangled over whether to put the ordinance up for a final vote next week or to wait for more facts on the total cost of creating an information technology department.
The administration is pushing passage of the ordinance and Council President Rashid Burney and Councilmen William Reid and Elliot Simmons agree. But council members Annie McWilliams, Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp expressed hesitation to put a director in place without more information. City Administrator Marc Dashield said he will be able to provide more of a bottom line by the end of March.
The administration is calling for the IT department to be included in the FY 2009 budget, which is currently stalled and may not be passed until April. The costs of the new department would have to be offset by cuts in the budget, which has already been hashed over for months. The bulk of expenses for 2009 has already been paid out in temporary or emergency appropriations in day-to-day costs of running the city, so it is unclear how much would be left to cut in the waning months of the fiscal year that ends June 30.
In her report on a meeting of the council’s IT committee, McWilliams said members feel a “high-level view” of costs for the new department must be given, including expenses for additional staff and training. The committee wants the council to have its own presence on the city web site, which is still sketchy after three years of tinkering by the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.
McWilliams said no other municipality in Union County has an IT director, but Dashield said the size of Plainfield in the county must be taken into account. In bolstering his case for swift passage of the ordinance, Dashield said, “We are so far behind. We just got e-mail last year. There is a void here that has to be filled.”
The debate over whether to hold up the ordinance or pass it while awaiting more information ended when Councilwoman Linda Carter sided with members who want it up for a vote next Monday.
“I’m fine with moving it forward,” she said, noting the city has been behind for years on IT technology. “Waiting a couple weeks is not going to gain us anything.”
But turning to Dashield, she said, “Can you make me happy by Monday?”
Dashield said he needed time to “do it right.”
The salary proposed for the new director would be more than any city cabinet member makes, except for the corporation counsel, fueling a concern that someone is waiting in the wings for the job. Carter asked how the council will know whether someone one has been hired, but Dashield said the issue will be “is there any money to pay the person.”
Council wariness may stem from the hiring last year of Douglas Peck as finance director, with an unprecedented $12,000 stipend to relocate from Ohio. Peck was later abruptly dismissed in the midst of budget talks. The council had given advice and consent to the hiring, but may not have any such say over hiring of an IT director.
The regular council meeting will be 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.