As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 15, 2012
By Dan Ivers
WALLINGFORD - An influx of technologically-savvy town councilors may be pushing the town closer to embracing the Internet and other advancements.
Last week, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. broke from his usual stance on technology when he allowed the town’s current operating budget to be posted on its website. The move came after public pressure from councilors, including Republican Craig Fishbein, who has advocated for greater transparency in the budget and tax collection processes.
At a Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Fishbein and a bipartisan group of councilors continued the push by asking Dickinson to make his upcoming budget proposal available online after it is released April 1. Dickinson resisted, but promised to weigh the benefits of the posting against the lost time it might create for town employees.
Technology Director Donald Rowe, summoned by the council to explain what posting the budget might require, said it would take about 10 minutes uploading an existing electronic copy.
The embrace of technology, or lack thereof, has long been an issue in town. Dickinson, a Republican in the midst of his 15th term, prefers to keep access to technology at a minimum in Town Hall, where internet access is available in offices only if required by state or federal law.
Dickinson could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but admitted at Tuesday’s meeting that he is in the minority on the issue.
“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.”
Historically, his position has been divisive in town and on the council, but many current officials agree that support for advancements may be at an all time high, partially due to a group of councilors that openly questions the mayor’s resistance.
Democrat John Sullivan, who joined the council in 2009, said he believes the change is partially due to the addition of Fishbein and other Republicans, who may be more willing to challenge Dickinson than some of their fellow party members.
“I think we’re witnessing a real change in the so-called Republican paradigm,” he said. “We just have some people who are now used to working with technology either at home or through their jobs.”
The current group of Republicans also includes newly elected Thomas Laffin, who is the youngest member of the council at 32 and described himself as in favor of incorporating more technology into the town’s operations. He and Democrat Jason Zandri, a 42year-old information technology worker, replaced veteran councilors Vincent Testa and Jerry Farrell Jr. last year.
“I think there’s a way to advance everything,” said Laffin. “But it’s not going to ever happen at a council meeting. That (discussion) was a waste of time. It has to be done through education of the administration.”
While many councilors agreed that the town should go further with its use of the internet, they praised Dickinson for his willingness to post the operating budget to the town website. While councilors can look to pressure him, the decision is ultimately his, and some believe his cautious approach will be an asset moving forward.
“He’s the mayor, and the town is in great shape,” said Laffin.
Sullivan also praised Dickinson for his relatively favorable response to the latest calls for a change in philosophy.
“We’ve moved the rock up the hill farther than we’ve ever moved it before at this point. At some point we’ve got to be satisfied with the direction we’re moving in,” he said.
Republican John Le-Tourneau said he did not believe that more support for advancements among Republicans would have any major influence over Dickinson’s approach.
“I see this as a bipartisan effort to do what we can to get the information out to the public,” he said. “It really is not politically driven.”
“We’ve moved the rock up the hill farther than we’ve ever moved it before at this point.”
—Town Councilor John Sullivan