E.H. Board Split on Outsourcing I.T. Needs

Advisory group says rethinking services could save town $100,000 a year

    Steps being taken to outsource information technology services for East Hampton Town, potentially eliminating the town department that oversees those services for all town departments, were put on hold last Thursday when a three-vote town board majority agreed to table a request for proposals from outside contractors, overriding the wishes of Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley.
    Arthur Malman of the town’s budget and finance advisory committee had just presented a report to the board that recommended increased investment in information technology, including adding two new staffers in the department. Doing so, according to the report, could “reduce the cost of government operations in the long term” and pay for itself, perhaps within three years.
    The report recommends that the board complete a study of the town’s existing “I.T. landscape” by this summer and analyze software and hardware needs.
    “Thoughtful introduction of I.T. within a specific business process is the most likely tool to reduce the cost of government operations in the long term,” and “would increase productivity, effectiveness, and value for the town, its citizens, and its businesses,” the budget and finance committee wrote. However, the report says, it would require continued investment.
    The committee, a group of local businesspeople and professionals appointed by the town board, includes Michael Diesenhaus, who served as the head of technological operations for the New York Stock Exchange and “is an expert in this area,” Mr. Malman said.
    The group also recommended that the town set up “e-gov” services that could be used by town residents and businesses needing access to property and other public records. According to an analysis by the information technology department provided in the report, an investment of $80,000 in such technology would generate about $100,000 in savings annually, including a reduction in the number of hours town staff spends responding to requests for information.
    Jay Diaz, a labor relations specialist for the town’s Civil Service Employees Association, also spoke to the board at last week’s meeting. If information technology services are outsourced, he asked, what would happen to the four union employees in that department?
    Mr. Diaz questioned an estimate by the town’s budget officer, Len Bernard, that the department costs the town $1 million a year. Each of the town’s departments require computer hardware, software, and services, for which there are licensing and other costs, he said.
    Mr. Wilkinson told Mr. Diaz that, because the board’s actions could lead to a grievance being filed against the town by the union, it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the matter in public. “No decision has been made,” he said, “and whatever decision is made will involve discussions with the C.S.E.A.”

    “A [request for proposals] has gone out,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “It does affect the unit that the local C.S.E.A. leader is in,” he told Mr. Diaz. “We will, in all cases, follow the collective bargaining agreement.”
    However, the resolution that was tabled over Mr. Wilkinson’s and Ms. Quigley’s objections was to authorize the issuance of a request for proposals from technology companies that could take over the town staffers’ duties.
    When Mr. Wilkinson offered the resolution, other board members suggested that, in light of the budget and finance committee’s report and other questions, more discussion was in order. “I got a number of calls on this,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione said. Though he said he supports “exploring outsourcing,” he suggested the board put the resolution on hold until after the issues could be discussed at a work session.
    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc agreed. The town’s obligations under New York State’s Municipal Separate Stormwater Systems program, whereby efforts on various fronts to contain stormwater runoff must be implemented and documented, will require technological coordination, Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
    Also last Thursday, the board split along the same lines over two resolutions offered by Councilman Van Scoyoc on behalf of East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch.
    Mr. Van Scoyoc, the Highway Department liaison, said that the board, in previous discussions, had agreed to Mr. Lynch’s request for an additional seasonal worker, with the salary to be paid by transferring $32,000 from the Highway Department’s drainage improvements budget line. 
    However, Mr. Wilkinson said he had removed the resolutions from the meeting’s agenda after receiving e-mails from Mr. Lynch that left him confused about what was requested. Mr. Van Scoyoc retrieved and offered them.
    Both the supervisor and Ms. Quigley voted against resolutions appointing the laborer and approving the budget modification, condemning what they called additional spending that had not been budgeted for. Mr. Van Scoyoc pointed out that the sum for the salary was not being added to the budget, but being taken from another area to cover the worker’s pay.