Linden council merges IT staff

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Resident Virginia Mallock addresses the Linden City Council about its decision to merge all computer staff into a single department.

LINDEN, NJ — The city is forming a new Division of Information Technology and eliminating the Division of Computers, a move that the City Council considers a “consolidation.”

Moving forward, all staff members who work with computers will be in the Division of Information Technology.

The change, determined in a 7-3 vote at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting, was adopted as a measure seeking to better protect the city against hacking; the decision was criticized by the three opposing members, who suggested that there was not enough information to make an informed decision, and that it would be better to outsource the task.

“We will have a new committee for 2020, so we will have more information for you then,” council President Michele Yamakaitis said in response to a resident’s question regarding more details.

The new department will not require additional staff; it will utilize current employees. City officials were not clear whether new computer equipment would be purchased, stating only that the resolution creating the department made no mention of new expenditures.

There are currently nine employees working with information technology: three police officers and four civilians in the police department, a city hall staff member and one person in the Department of Public Works. The uniformed and civilian staff have separate computer systems, city hall staff members told the council. Two outside entities are employed to support the city’s computer systems.

One resident offered that the website and technology need overall improvement but disagreed with the consolidation. He supported finding outside professionals, rather than utilizing city staff.

Council members Armando Medina, Rhashonna Cosby and Gretchen Hickey were the three no votes. Medina said there was not enough of a plan in place for creating this new department. Cosby thought that outsourcing IT to a private company would be a more cost effective and beneficial decision. Mayor Derek Armstead arrived late, after the resolution had been passed, but said he supported it as a way to protect the city against unauthorized intrusions.

“I’ve been the chairman of the IT committee for a few years now,” Medina said. “I think we’ve done a lot of work with the IT committee: new website, new times of internal software, new web base, that soon the public will get to test out on their own. … I have to be honest, I was a little bit shocked when I saw this ordinance from last month. … I’m just a little bit unclear on the structure of what’s going to happen in 2020. … Folks were exposed to a different version of the ordinance last month.”
Cosby echoed Medina’s sentiments that there was not enough structure to the plan. “I used to be on the technology committee, right?” she said. “And I did recommend that we outsource this many years ago. The reason for that is, No. 1, so that we would have a control over managing our information technology. … Why are we doing this? Because we don’t have the right people. So why don’t we, like Councilman Medina said, do it internally or outsource it? It’s cheaper.”

Councilman Peter Brown, who voted for the change, said the city previously spent over $1 million to upgrade computer systems that were at least 10 years old.

“Part of the job of the technology committee is to address the software and hardware problems that we have in the city,” he said. “Technology is evolving every day. … Other counties and towns throughout the state of New Jersey were hacked. All this is doing is taking two departments, two divisions, and combining them. You’re going to save money by getting people who are experienced, people who are not specialized in just one department but specialized in multiple different programs and multiple different software programs.”

Because of his concerns about the hacking that has occurred in other municipalities, Armstead emphasized the importance of security.

“In the wake of several cyber attacks, not only in Union County but elsewhere in the country. … We are in a tremendous amount of jeopardy here as a municipality, and I think we have to do everything humanly possible to make sure our data systems are intact.”

Armstead said that during the time he was employed by Union County, which he stated has a proficient information technology division, it was hacked.

“We need resources that are going to protect, and that is what led us to the idea of creating an IT division,” he said. “I’ve given it a great deal of thought and I think the division should fall under the police department, because I feel like they are in the business of securing our town.”