Some of us are old enough to remember when Connecticut, now the Land of Shaky Finances, was known as the Land of Steady Habits.
But if one town continues to hold to the latter ethos, it must be Wallingford, where the state’s second-longest-serving municipal chief executive never waivers in his stubborn and baseless opposition to introducing inexpensive new technology that would make town government more user-friendly, transparent and efficient.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has certainly been consistent in his objection to any new technology that he believes would duplicate other services or methods that the town already provides — even if those older methods are labor-intensive (costly) and/or very inconvenient for the public.
For example, the land records of many Connecticut towns and cities are available online, in great detail. In Wallingford, though, the mayor has always insisted that people who want to see them can come down to Town Hall, during regular business hours, and just ask.
Last week there was a debate between town councilors and the mayor over the idea of potentially putting town meetings online. Several councilors asked TV Department Manager Scott Hanley about the ability to upload the meetings to the internet or stream them live.
Republican Councilors John LeTourneau and Craig Fishbein and unaffiliated Councilor John Sullivan probed the possibility. Fishbein asked how much that would cost.
“Simple answer is it has to go through me,” Dickinson said. “We’re not adding new programs ... we’re not chasing a technology bunny.”
The town already offers to make DVDs for residents who want to view the meetings, he said, and that’s good enough. And when Republican Councilor Christopher Shortell asked about the possibility of uploading the meetings to a free service, like YouTube, Dickinson responded, “I question whether there’s anything of serious content on social media.”
While we have long been puzzled by the mayor’s objections to bringing Town Hall into the 21st century, we’re starting to suspect that there’s more than misplaced parsimony behind his reluctance.
If the mayor believes that social media are good for nothing more “serious” than sharing funny cat videos, it might be helpful if he considers some of the other things you can find via Facebook and other social media.
You can discover interesting, in-depth articles from The Atlantic, The Economist, The Smithsonian and other “serious” publications; useful health, fitness and cooking ideas; panel discussions held by the New England First Amendment Coalition; historical photos and notices of upcoming lectures on local or state history; news bulletins from your local newspaper’s website; live video of that nesting pair of bald eagles and their two babies in Washington; even words of inspiration from the Dalai Lama. (Yes, the Dalai Lama is on Facebook.) Social media has also been credited with spurring or aiding important democratic movements around the globe.
While some at the Town Council meeting argued that the costs would be minimal, Dickinson refused to budge from his bewildering opposition, stating that if new technology is added, something else must be cut. But there’s no cost to join most of these media, and it takes no equipment more expensive than that which every modern home or municipal building already has.
The mayor should also consider that the more information you’re able to put online, the fewer people you’ll need to dig out the relevant pieces of paper for the public.
This approach allows employees to focus on tasks that technology alone cannot accomplish and improves productivity and customer service.
The commercial banks, for example, have made their online services so easy and so convenient that they’ve been able to cut down on their high-overhead branch offices and still keep their customers happy.
If the mayor wants to save money, he’d consider that.