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Friday, March 30, 2012

Councilors, mayor spar over online technology

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday March 14, 2012

By Dan Ivers
(203) 317-2275
WALLINGFORD — Town councilors sparred with Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. Tuesday night over whether to post information about the town budget and local properties on the town’s website.

Councilors Craig Fishbein, Jason Zandri, John LeTourneau and John Sullivan criticized Dickinson’s resistance to posting his budget proposal, which is due April 1. Dickinson argued that the document would be available on paper, and a lack of demand for it over the years proves there is no justification for the time that employees would need to post an electronic copy on the website.

“I don’t understand where the need is. Who is calling for this?” Dickinson said. “The information is available to people if they want it. Every duty, everything that each department is involved with, takes time. We have less staff — any addition of duties comes with the burden of justification.”

Technology Director Donald Rowe was summoned by the council to explain what posting the budget might require, and he estimated his office would spend about 10 minutes uploading an existing electronic copy.

Last week, Dickinson agreed to post an electronic copy of the current operating budget online, but he repeated his opposition to the posting of his proposal for 2012-13. He said that compiling the documents places additional responsibilities on the town’s finance department and he is concerned about setting a precedent.

The bipartisan group of councilors, however, pushed back, saying the move would show taxpayers that the town is committed to transparency.

“This is an opportunity for people who care about their town, and pay their taxes on time, to get an idea of where their money is going,” said Sullivan, a Democrat.

Dickinson is the town’s executive officer and is not obligated to follow recommendations of the Town Council. He said he intends to weigh the benefits of posting the document against the burdens on town employees, but he reiterated his opposition to furthering technology simply to “keep up with the Joneses.”

“It’s got to meet a useful process. It’s got to meet a useful endeavor for the people,” he said. “I obviously do not march to the step of perhaps the rest of the world on this issue ... We don’t jump just because someone else does it. We take our time and think it through.”

Earlier in the meeting, councilors sparred with Dickinson over his recommendation to endorse an application by the South Central Council of Governments for a grant to help establish a regional property database among its 15 member towns. The database would include information on individual properties in each town, as well as general information on local highways, zoning, demographics and economic development.

Dickinson said the town would not release information on individual properties, mostly out of concern for citizens whose addresses are protected, such as police officers, judges and Department of Correction employees.

Some councilors objected to the limited participation, saying much of the same information is already available through non-government websites, and that spending money to publicize such a limited amount of data is not worthwhile.

“Either the Internet is evil or it is not,” said Fishbein, a Republican. “This seems like something that, at least in its limited form, is of no benefit.” Zandri, a Democrat, criticized Dickinson’s position as a stand against technology, and said the town would be missing out on a rare opportunity.

“I presume that you are probably as resistant to a keyboard as somebody with a bag of peanuts that has a peanut allergy,” he said. “I think to not take the opportunity to expand on and add to a service when it costs us nothing is a shame.”

The council ultimately voted 5-4 not to endorse the grant application, with Nicholas Economopoulos, Robert Parisi, Rosemary Rascati and Vincent Cervoni casting votes in favor.

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