Opinion: Misinformation runs rampant in Norwalk’s bid to modernize info technology

NORWALK, Conn. – Remember the party game called “Telephone,” the one where you sat in a circle and someone would whisper a sentence to someone sitting next to them, and that person would pass it on, and it would continue being whispered until it made it all the way around the circle? The last person would repeat the sentence out loud and it would seldom resemble the original.

It might go something like this: I’d start it by whispering “My father got a new job and we’re moving to Miami,” and that would make its way around the circle until the last person repeated, “Why do dogs like to chew their fleas?”

All too often, things that happen in Norwalk’s official circles start as one thing and take on a new look as the info passes from person to person. A good recent example is how a Common Council member demanded the city provide him an iPad, and how he harangued the mayor for weeks until he got one, and that the entire reason for the city getting set to spend $700 apiece (plus taxes and apps) for 18 iPads is to save money on paper printouts.

Sounds crazy, no?

That’s because, well, it sort of is.

Fully computerizing the Council would save a lot of paper. According to City Clerk Donna King, the copy counter on the city hall copier showed about 12,700 copies made in a month, and, while not all of those copies were for Council business, much of the printing was for Council agendas and backup info packets. In addition to the paper, there are ink costs – ink is not cheap, as anyone with a home printer knows. Also, the printer lease calls for a 2-cents-per-copy charge. Then the packet are hand-delivered to Council members, which involves employee time, plus gas and auto wear and tear.

Then there is the environmental cost – how many trees are cut for a Council packet?

The price for the three iPads purchased so far is about $600 each, and that includes a detached keyboard.

The program is, at this point, a pilot program intended to see if it the move makes sense. My guess is that, at some point, Norwalk tested a few cars to see if they would be preferable to the horse-drawn buggies.

And the idea did not originate with a demanding Council member, nor was it conceived strictly as a cost-saving measure. It wasn’t even conceived on the current mayor’s watch. The idea did, however, appeal to the mayor’s concern about the environment and about protecting the privacy of city officials.

“This project had been requested in the past, but I am told it did not receive support of the previous mayor,” Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday in an email response to NancyOnNorwalk’s inquiry. “When I took office, I had concerns about two things:

  1. The reams and reams of paper being used to compile Council packets as well as the fact the packets are hand delivered.
  2. The possible subpoenaing of personal e-mails of the Council members and others using personal software and hardware for city business.  I had this same concern for city officials even before I became mayor.

“I had a meeting in my office with people from Information Technology, Mr. (Tom) Hamilton, and several members of the Council,” Rilling continued. “I was informed there were funds left in the IT capital budget to purchase hardware, whether it be iPads or iPhones.”

Rilling said it was decided to give the idea a shot by starting a pilot program “to test whether or not it would be feasible to equip the Council members with devices in order to reduce paper consumption.”

No one making demands? No council members storming the gates?

“No one has ‘demanded’ or ‘harangued’ me over the past four months,” he said.  “Once in a while, questions were asked and answered about the progress being made, but certainly they were few and far between.”

And so it was that a pair of Council members were given iPads to test under normal Council conditions, if there is such a thing. David Watts (D-District A) and Travis Simms (D-District B) volunteered to try out the new equipment. Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) is using an iPhone and Jerry Petrini (R-District D) has a city e-mail address installed on his personal iPad.

Council member Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) told NancyOnNorwalk that the Republicans had rejected the city-provided iPads because David McCarthy (R-District E) said the politics weren’t good. Some members of the Council also felt that it is just too hard to use a computer compared with paper.

But it should be remembered that the program is not just about the city-owned iPads. It is about installing city email on those iPads, or on Council members’ personal computers.

“If it is determined the devices are not practical and the pilot program is not achieving the desired results, it will be discontinued and the devices returned,” Rilling said Monday. “I would, at that time, still encourage all Councilpersons to accept a city e-mail address to protect their privacy” lest they wind up having their personal computers subpoenaed, like Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson did as part of the Al Madany Islamic Center’s lawsuit against the commission and the city.

Rilling expressed frustration – civilly – at the political brouhaha over what is essentially a trial to attempt to advance Norwalk’s use of technology that is in use in many municipalities around the country.

“While I recognize the fact this is being kept alive by others, I believe it is time to move on to more pressing business,” he wrote. “Even if we equipped the entire Council with iPads, the total cost would be less than 10K.  Not a whole lot of money in the overall scheme of things.”


6 responses to “Opinion: Misinformation runs rampant in Norwalk’s bid to modernize info technology”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Not all of the objections revolve around cost of the units. some of them, ahem, revolve around assumptions about what they will accomplish–given that most folks offering up opinions about paper savings and ease of use have never administrated delivery of materials or tried to use electronic materials in a board setting.
    And some of the justification seems to revolve around an objection to the use of a courier–who media reports cite as a city employee. Nobody has addressed the fact that this person’s time is not a savings if he/she continues to be employed as a courier. What else will he/she do instead (or will this job be cut from the budget)?

  2. anon

    Misinformation about misinformation, issue is not about modernizing technology, all players have ability to do so with own devices, the question-why are taxpayers paying for it?

  3. the donut hole

    Three task forces without any provisional authority and three Ipads that will save $3000 in ink and paper costs in 6 months. Let’s see what else we can accomplish in the next 6 months before we go full tilt on re-election efforts.
    Question: can we engrave each of the council’s names on all of the ipads? That would be big progress.

  4. Peter Parker

    I’ve mentioned this in another post. We are not living in the dark ages, its a digital world, our cc should be equipped with technology. It makes good sense. This conversation is counter productive and is about nonsense and not what is best for Norwalk. Grow up.

  5. Peter Parker

    The reason the cc should not use or be allowed to use persoanl devices is PI plain an simple. It will protect both the cc member and the city by using city specific devices for council work.

  6. the donut hole

    Watts it take to get a council man to read his packets and show up to committee meetings? Let’s enable the GPS finders on the Ipads and let’s see where the machines are when they are not present at committee meetings. Maybe the IPAD could show up and contribute something meaningful in the councilman’s absence? Maybe we could stream some you tube rap videos at meetings with these devices to keep up with the times.

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