The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted 3-0 to create an advisory committee that will be charged with identifying and recommending the use of various technologies to make the town government run more efficiently and in more user-friendly ways for residents.
The ‘Technology Advisory Committee’ will consist of five members—three Republicans and two Democrats—who will support New Canaan’s director of information technology, First Selectman Kevin Moyihan said, while working with department heads who rely on technology as “part of daily operations in many areas.”
“We have many online applications where citizens can do business in town, but I’m sure there are areas where we can improve,” Moynihan said at the meeting, held at Town Hall.
“If you look at other towns or cities, you will find many applications are doing online things. We have some of those, we probably can do more simply by looking at what other towns and cities do. There are many vendors of Internet applications that you can buy.”
As an example, Moynihan said, the town pays about $100,000 per year in credit card fees by processing payments made at the Recreation and Parking departments, though many younger residents use free services such as Venmo.
“I think we need to find a way to avoid those bank fees,” Moynihan said.
He added: “We may find a way to, perhaps, have citizens have town accounts so we can debit town accounts.”
Ultimately the board—Moynihan as well as Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams—voted in favor of creating the committee.
The full description of it is as follows: “The committee will consist of five members with a mandate to investigate, evaluate and recommend to town departments potential applications of technology (existing and developing, including Internet applications) to make town government more efficient and cost effective or to make it more convenient for residents, vendors and service providers to do business with the town or to access town government services.”
Devereaux reiterated concerns she had expressed at a previous meeting about effectively doing away with a municipal body already described in the Town Code that may take on such a role, she said.
“What’s confusing to me and I’ve said this before, is that the Utilities Commission and I think that actually the Internet is labeled a ‘utility,’ I don’t understand why it couldn’t function in this way?” Devereaux said.
Moynihan began to respond that “if you look at the ordinance that created the Utilities Commission in 1989—” at which point Devereaux corrected him that it was (in fact) 1986.
“Whatever,” he said. “The mandate that was established by that commission, especially in regards to the citizens filing complaints against utilities—I have gone through the minute books with staff. There is no example of a citizen bringing a complaint against a utility. So it did not perform the function that it was designed for. The Utilities Commission was repurposed over the last six years. Natural gas has been solved. Cell service is something that I would not delegate to volunteers.”
Williams noted that the Board of Selectmen under Rob Mallozzi brought the Utilities Commission back after a fallow period to address natural gas and cellular coverage.
“I don’t think this is a bad idea, to have a new committee dedicated to technology,” Williams said. “Does that mean the Utilities Commission goes away? I don’t know. I need to think about that.”
He and Moynihan both noted that the only the Town Council, New Canaan’s legislative body, can repeal an ordinance.
Williams said: “But I think having a committee with some illustrious techies is a good idea. If Kevin’s proposition is that it exists and will exist to make town government more efficient and cost-effective through the use of technology, I have no problem with that.”
Devereaux asked Moynihan whether the committee would report to the Board of Selectmen or first selectman alone (the former), whether it was broader than IT (yes), whether the group would get involved with other areas of technology such as education technology (no, not that because that’s on the Board of Education), whether its work will involve more than computers (yes) and whether he’s looking for strictly IT people, to which the first selectman answered: “I suppose technology can take many forms.”
Moynihan said he has three Republican candidates in mind for the slots on the committee and is awaiting vetting by the Republican Town Committee, and that two Democrats are needed.
Devereaux noted that the Democratic Town Committee had suggested a resident who holds a doctorate degree in Physics who got turned down.
Moynihan said: “He was a finance person, not a technology person.”
When Devereaux responded that “he definitely knows about technology” though “he’s not an IT person,” Moynihan said only, “OK.”
When Devereaux asked how the public would be able to interact with the committee, Moynihan responded: “Like all of our committees, they are governed by FOIA, they are required to have agendas for their meetings. They are required, most of our committees accept public comment at the beginning of their meetings.”
Moynihan said he would hope to have the committee’s members ready for appointment for the selectmen’s March 13 or 27 meeting.