Quincy city commissioners give IT one more shot

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By Alice Du Pont

During a report on the status of Quincy's Information Technology Department Jack McLean, city manager, predicted that the enterprise section of the department would finish the year in the black while the government section would finish in the red.

He said that in the next fiscal year, he's predicting the enterprise section will be able to completely take care of the losing government section.

But McLeans's forecast wasn't what some commissioners wanted to hear.

"It's time to pull the plug (on telecommunications). You don't want to throw good money after bad. I have this seat and it's my job to protect the citizens financially," said Commissioner Finley Cook.

Cook said he is no longer interested in the city being in the telecommunications business and suggested it hire a consultant to find out if there is a company willing to take the department over and "run it right." Citizens, Cook said, are complaining to him about high utility bills while the city keeps expending funds on telecommunications.

"Our in-house employees are not doing the job. I'm not looking to close the operation down, I'm looking at leasing it for 20 to 25 years," Cook said.

Mayor Andy Gay called the department a “money pit.”

"We can't continue to lose the kind of money we've been losing. We need to give you some direction. I would like to see you find a consultant who could advise us on which way this should go," Gay said.

Commissioner Derrick Elias chimed in with Cook and Gay, saying that he had been a supporter of the telecommunications department but now he has changed his mind because the department continues to lose money.

McLean asked commissioners to hold off until they have had the opportunity to listen to and analyze his plan to streamline and make the department profitable. His plan will reduce or eliminate any third party contract services, improve customer service and system reliability and focus on increasing the customer base, as well as improve internal marketing and sales.

Since March 10, McLean said he has:

• Eliminated the telephone contractor payout of $3,226.99 per month, saving $38,723.88 per year.

• Reduced the engineer contract payout by $1,500 per month, saving $18,000 annually. That contract was terminated May 1.

• Reduced the fiber splicer contract payout by $928 per month, saving $11,136 annually.

• Response time to customers has gone from a 4-hour to a 1-hour response on network-connected issues.

• Set up a new auto attendant that directs customers to a specific technician for identified problems. Installation of scripting for phone that updates calling, call forwarding, voice mail, fast busy signal and ONT.

• Implemented proactive line inspection programs to identify breakage and outage.

• Started a 24/7 after-hour schedule.

• Added 67 customers using Netquincy and telephone service since March 10.

• Plans to add 22 customers every 3 weeks for the next 12 months.

• Added marketing materials in customer service lobby.

• Internal marketing video available featuring satisfied customers.

"The plan can be completed with less funds than other cities' budgets for only governmental telecommunications services. As a result of expense reductions of $85,859 in annual expenses, the information technology budget will be exceeded by $25,218. However, the enterprise section will generate a small profit because of the growth in the customer base and some increases in rates that will pass through to the customer," McLean said.

While Gay, Cook and Elias remained skeptical of McLean's plan, they agreed to give it another month and assess the progress again.

In other matters, commissioners looked at 25 of more than 200 new Quincy logo submissions by local school children. A six-member committee of judges will narrow the field to 15 within the next week. Those entries will be displayed at the Gadsden Art Center through May 8.

The top five entries will be given to Harry Wilsher, Florida A & M University professor, and Joe Sanders, professor at Florida State University School of Art, and students from both universities will develop a final logo choice using illustrative and design technology.