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With High I.T. Costs, Are Residents Getting Results?

The cost of the city's Information Technology (I.T.) department is $25.58 per city resident, $8.62 more than an average of Cranston, Warwick and Pawtucket. All three communities have significantly higher population counts than East Providence and yet Pawtucket spends considerably less on IT both per resident and total while Cranston spends about the same amount and Warwick slighly more than East Providence in total dollars.

Warwick:                         Total IT Spend - $1,402,011     Population - 82,672
Cranston:                         Total IT Spend - $1,287,854     Population - 80,387
East Providence:              Total IT Spend -$1,212,803      Population - 47,408
Pawtucket:                       Total IT Spend - $  816,458      Population - 71,148

So, with this, the highest I.T. spending per capita, are East Providence residents getting their bank for their buck?

It seems not if you follow the City Council and School Committee meetings via the city's live stream. Candidate for At-Large Council (assuming there will be an election) Bob Rodericks stated in a press release on March 29th "On several occasions the broadcast of City Council meetings have not worked. Either audio is off or the meeting doesn't air in its entirety." voicing frustration that the latest meeting, the special meeting to determine the fate of City Manager Tim Chapman, was again without audio. Rodericks promised to look into it if elected, however in the meantime the issue persists. Councilman Faria had put a task force together which added additional cameras and upgrades to the filming, but the issues with audio and dropped streaming remain.

The issues with streaming are usually resolved the next day or day after when the video recorded on disk is uploaded. This indicates that the issue is likely not with the videographer but either with the service, Clerkbase or the city's I.T. infrastructure within city hall and the council chambers. Since Clerkbase serves a lot of other municipalities not dealing with such issues, the likelihood of the issue being on their part is small. A quick count of reports of major streaming issues shows at-least 10 major incidents (no sound, not up at all) going back to February of 2016. Well known incidents include the stream cutting out during the high school Building Committee presentation to the School Committee, with School Committee member Jessica Beauchaine using Facebook Live from the audience so people could watch. Similarly, the Independent Townie 'went live' at the last Special Meeting so that people at home could see the fate of their City Manager in real time.

Any resident who has been in City Hall Conference Room A, will see what appears to be an off-the-shelf network router sitting on the floor. Reported on the condition of anonymity were issues with computers in the City Clerk's office, to the extent that service to the public had been curtailed. The tipster informed that one issue took a week to correct despite repeated visits by technicians. Issues with remote access, city iPads and similar concerns have also been reported.

IT Director Kelly Ahrens
E.P. Official Photo

New initiatives have been slow to take hold such as promotion of online tax and water/sewer bill payments that was presented back in November, an RFP for a cheaper company to process credit card payments discussed by the I.T. Director also has not materialized. Paperless permitting is another initiative that has not moved forward beyond its current limited scope.

The city website is often slow to be updated, with no information posted about the early closing of City Hall on New Year's Eve, a very slow response to posting about the city's water notice when meanwhile a notice on trash collection delays stayed well after the collection date had passed. This was after Councilwoman Anna Sousa noted at the November 7th council meeting that the website is not user friendly and a lot of information is outdated. We noted the following outdated information and other issues on the city website:
  • The Canvassing Authority has a notice regarding changes that may have happened to voters since 2006. As well as a link to the 2014 voting map, which gives the message "We're sorry, we could not find this page." A second link to the 2014 voting map does work but downloads the 2012 voting map. The special referenda information from last November is still present. A resume for an appointee to the Carousel Commission is linked on the Canvassing Authority page. The 'Meetings and Agendas' link does not have any agendas since April of 2013.
  • The City Council page has an extraneous link to the 2015 legislative breakfast agenda as well as a dead link to the school committee meeting schedule.
  • The Prevention Coalition page lists an Executive Director that is no longer employed and is not even the most recent former position holder.
  • Job Titles are out of date on the Finance Department page, not accounting for a reorganization that happened over six months ago.
  • The Tax Collection page has two nearly identical notices together relating to issues with Invoice Cloud, the notices are not dated so it is hard to tell if they are current or prior notices. A notice that tax sale will be held on April 27th, 2017 is posted. No information on 2018 tax sales is available. The 'Current Tax Rates' link downloads a 2015 tax rates pdf. 
  • The link to "Highway Department" should actually be "Highway Division"
  • The HR department site links a Social Media Policy that still contains a section on Council Members despite it being ordered by the Council to be removed, the language also still contains a major error that would seemingly ban Council Members from sharing city Facebook posts. The site also still links to the previous firefighter contract, no longer in effect since the end of last October.
  • Parks Division News is empty, the last item archived was 2013.
  • Police Department has links to 2016 Recruitment and a 2015 Federal Grant legal notice. 
  • The Public Works Department page has a link to a 2005 report to DEM and a 2009 letter to water customers. 
  • On the recycling page, the MaxMan visit is not dated, but the pictures show a recycling bin not used since 2011. Earth Day cleanups show 2016, nothing from Earth Day 2017. The collection schedule for major appliances is 2016-2017, with a date of "February 111" listed.
  • The Senior Center page makes no mention of the Senior Help Line and the last Monthly Newsletter is November of last year.
  • The Wastewater/Sewer page still references United Water and not Suez.
  • The Monthly Billing notice is still on the Water Division page, monthly billing went live in June of last year.


A last minute additional expense beyond what was budgeted is the school committee's move to deconsolidate the from the city. The school department had been paying half of the IT Director's salary and half the salary of an administrative assistant.The City's Finance Advisor put the city-side cost of deconsolidation at $41,000 a year. The Superintendent of Schools cited expanding technological needs as well as certain logistical failures leading up to the current school year as the reasons for the move. 

The IT Consolidation Agreement was signed in 2011 and it is not clear that it has been properly followed in terms of the deconsolidation process.

The agreement seems to read that the consolidated IT Director Ms. Ahrens, referred to in the agreement as the Chief Information Officer (CIO)  would actually return to the school department upon severance. Instead the school department hired a new IT Director and the consolidated CIO/IT Director became the city's IT Director.

Also mentioned in the memorandum is a $20,000 raise for the additional services performed in the consolidated role. We have been told unofficially at this time that Ms. Ahrens has retained the additional compensation despite no longer performing consolidated duties.

At this time we are not aware of any memoranda or contracts that supersede the 2011 memorandum. We will continue to followup with more details.