Friday, August 07, 2009

City Hall Phones Still Down

I had a simple question Wednesday to ask the city construction official, but the phone rang once and then went to a busy signal. Calls to two other city offices produced the same result. Same thing on Thursday and when I checked about an hour ago, the system was still down. Being only half a block from City Hall, I walked over on Wednesday to get at least one answer. I could only imagine the backlog of unanswered phone calls and e-mail that has built up since.

Earlier this year, City Administrator Marc Dashield told the City Council a new "voice over internet protocol" had been installed, linking city phone and computer systems. His pitch for an information technology director to manage the system did not receive council approval in the budget year that ended June 30, possibly because of suspicions that the job was being tailored for a certain individual.

The plan was to merge Communications and Technology under one person. Since March, the city has had no public information officer and only one staffer for the local access television channel. The IT person was to become the person in charge.

The mayor responded Thursday to a citizen's request by e-mail that was copied to bloggers. She noted that computers were frequently down and pointed out the need for an IT director.

"Sorry for the delay in responding, our computers seem to be down quite frequently. It is imperative that we have an Information Technology Department to handle all of our needs, especially to help us be able to communicate on a timely basis with our residents," the mayor wrote, although the topic of the inquiry was the city's applications for stimulus money.

So here we are in August 2009 with a big problem. Now that Plaintalker has been covering city government for more than four years, there is an archive that might offer some perspective. A search for "voice over internet" turned up two posts, one from the March discussion and the other from the mayor's 100-day report - in 2006. Click here to see the posts.

We see that the issue was a priority in 2006 and is still unresolved.

How come? Was there a lack of political will? Did the high cabinet turnover slow things down? Must we wait for the new Information Technology committee to be formed? Council President Rashid Burney has discussed both VoIP and IT on his blog. Click here for some of his posts. If part of the problem is an unclear understanding between the administration and the governing body on IT outcomes, can dialogue take place soon?

Municipal government is not known for being nimble, but as we see in the Obama administration, a good team effort can bring about needed responses to pressing issues. The city did not complete the implementation of an IT plan in FY 2009 and may not be able to do so until the FY 2010 budget is passed, but there must be some interim solution to keeping the lines of communication open. If possible, at the very least, the city web site could be used to update residents and perhaps to provide a couple of alternate links to City Hall until the system is up again.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is the city even using VoIP? I don't understand what they are doing, and more to the point, THEY don't know what THEY'RE doing. And clearly, the mayor is playing the politics of blame by inserting the need for an IT director into an answer to a resident's question about stimulus funding. Has she no sense of propriety? I guess not. The individual they purportedly wanted to hire would NOT have been up to this task anyway. Glad the council said no. However, they can always call the phone company (Verizon) and have them come and fix the phones. After almost 4 years, they can't get it right. I just found out there's a concert in the plaza today. They just put up the notice TODAY. Come on! Are they going to blame the "New Democrats" for the failed phone service, the inability to alert business owners to a downtown event that is supposed to be for them, the inability to send press releases, the scheduling of a violent movie as "family fun night," too? Probably. My suggestion: call Verizon. Since it's Friday, have them work over the weekend to fix the phone service. Yes, it will cost in overtime, but maybe the mayor can just give out less cookies and other free food at her events.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:00 pm update - Phone system still down

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Real Change Not Chump Change! said...

These issues have to do with a lack of planning and knowledge by the administration. They are NOT technological issues. The city website still lacks substance. Let's get rid of the entire administration! Real change is needed in Plainfield

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 8:55am - Radical idea, but a really, really good one. Do you think people will do a little thinking and vote for a change? Hope so.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an experienced IT leader, I can attest to the fact that VOIP is being implemented in many corporate and government departments. In fact, I've managed a few of these projects.

A few points jump out at me from reading this post:

The fact that the computers are often down is serious but it doesn't warrant an IT director being hired. It requires entry level PC analysts that cost a lot less. These are simple maintenance tasks that are obviously not being done.

A consultant can be brought in to install and kick off the VOIP system. Again, no need for a high cost staff position. The city of Plainfield is not a technology company it's a government body that is under intense financial pressure.

Hiring an IT Director would be akin to hiring a doctor to deal with your obesity problem.

12:03 PM  

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