Published: April 16, 2015 | Last Modified: April 16, 2015 09:28AM
In most towns, mention that there’s a town council technology committee and you’ll likely get a “so what?” But not necessarily in Wallingford, where such bodies come and go. A tech committee was formed in 2010 and then dissolved by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. in 2011, after he had rejected its modest recommendations.
This is a town, after all, that doesn’t even make email and voice mail universally available at Town Hall, because the mayor seems to assume that town employees will only abuse such tools. And — who knows? — if they should gain wide access to the Internet, they’d probably fritter away taxpayers’ time by looking at videos of cute cats all day long.
Yes, that may happen in some workplaces — but there’s another approach to infotech, and it’s the one taken by Meriden and many other municipalities in this state. This attitude says let’s offer more services to the public, in a convenient way, when they need to interact with government — services that include not only voice mail and email to contact officials, but also GIS (geographic information system) mapping of properties; and property searches that provide complete information, even from mobile devices; and several other kinds of maps (street maps, hiking maps, voting district maps, General Assembly and congressional district maps); along with election results and places of interest and profiles of town or city councilors and lists of upcoming events and the texts of town codes and regulations, RFPs and bids; and let’s offer a way to pay tax and sewer bills without driving down to Town Hall. And more.
To be fair, Wallingford’s website does offer today’s weather and temperature (“Fair, 21”) but after that it starts to thin out — apparently under the philosophy that a town website, if any, shouldn’t be too useful; it may offer explanations of what various town departments do (although that’s something you could probably look up in the dictionary), along with phone and maybe even fax numbers. It may even tell voters where to vote, and perhaps provide the texts of town ordinances. But it probably shouldn’t do a great deal more than that.
Town Councilor Christine Mansfield, vice chairwoman of the new technology committee (which was formed last year and has not yet been dissolved by the mayor) owns a technology business and has said she’s “chomping at the bit” to change things by creating a task force to implement new technology in town offices. “Technology in some cases is not a ‘want’ anymore,” she says.
If so, she’ll have to convince the mayor, who does not generally believe that buying new technology is a good use of town funds.
Mansfield says the committee has identified first steps, including making email and voice mail available in all town departments. But Tom Laffin, the technology committee chairman, says a task force cannot require the mayor or department heads to make changes. The mayor, he says, “has a group he relies on for technology advice.”
Despite the low public turnout for a recent technology workshop, and Dickinson’s continuing opposition to spending money on Town Hall technology, members of the Town Council continue to explore possibilities of offering town employees and residents more online services.
“We have to justify using money or town resources,” said Mansfield.
Dickinson is perceived to be frugal, and that’s fine — so was Ben Franklin — but we hope he gets his technology information from someone more up-to-date on these things. Perhaps he should be listening to the information technology experts on the Town Council rather than to some unofficial kitchen cabinet.