City tech department fails, deadlock continues

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — City Council has one last chance to pass an ordinance establishing an enterprise-level technology department with a mayor-appointed director, and if Monday night’s meeting was any indication, the 4-4 vote deadlock arising from the issue looks to be tightening.

Councilor Jon Neeper began the discussion by passing out packets of information to fellow councilors regarding “Smart City Initiatives” and explained that many large Ohio cities have pushed billions of grant dollars into major projects under the “smart city” name, which Lima can’t afford.

“We can’t fund a project like this. So why would we create a department to work toward it if we can’t afford it?” Neeper said.

Councilor Carla Thompson followed with stating her support of the ordinance, but she expressed some reluctance as to the lack of specificity surrounding the “vision” of the department.

“It will receive my support tonight, but I hope to have these things answered,” Thompson said.

“Until we see the road map, I can’t support this — not a dollar,” Councilor Sam McLean said. “We don’t have that. We don’t have any information to guide us. We had one meeting at the Cambridge Center.”

Mayor David Berger rebutted some of the councilors’ stated concerns.

“You have been provided lots of information. The smart city initiative is underway. It’s not a question if we are starting it or not. It’s underway,” he said.

Currently, the city administration has nine projects being developed under the “Smart City” name primarily working on connecting the 55 separate systems that make up the city’s technology network. Berger said the concept of the chief technology officer is to connect those silos, find ways for them to communicate with each other and make them more efficient.

“We have no common database for people. We have no common billing system. All of that creates enormous inefficiencies,” Berger said.

Berger gave an example of a recent water meter project that has been improved with a connecting to the city’s phone database. The upgrade allows automated reminders to be sent out when someone’s water bill gets close to its due date, which Berger said has cut the city’s water turnoff rate by 50 percent, improved public utility services and saved the city money.

“This is about solving issues, putting a person in place who is able to draw our technology system together,” Berger said. “It’s a reasonable request. We need it, and I’m asking for you to support it.”

If the establishment of an enterprise technology department is not approved, Berger said the timelines of current projects under the smart city initiative, such as custom-designed work flow software systems between departments, may have to be reconsidered.

Berger said he is not looking to any specific individuals to fill the “chief technology officer” position at this time, but he would go through the same application process he has used in the past to fill other department head positions if funds are approved.

In related news, council accepted a last-minute communication from the city traffic commission that suspends parking enforcement in the downtown area. Councilors Derry Glenn and Sam McLean, who owns a business downtown, pushed the initiative forward.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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