The next RTM meeting is on Tuesday, July 10th at 7:30 pm in Town Hall (110 Myrtle Avenue). You can watch the meetings on Cablevision channel 79, Frontier channel 99, or online here. You can see the official agenda by clicking here. Disclaimer: What’s below is my interpretation of the agenda and not an official communication from the RTM.
The RTM will discuss two issues:
- Whether to appropriate $350,000 for the purchase of land use permitting software, and
- Whether to appoint four individuals as trustees of the Westport Public Library.
AGENDA ITEM #1: Whether to appropriate $350,000 for the purchase of land use permitting software
Currently, the Planning & Zoning, Conservation, and Engineering Departments use one software program, while the Building Department, Assessor's Office, and the Westport Weston Health District all use separate software programs. These programs don't interface well and they are all outdated.
Blum Shapiro described the numerous inefficiencies caused by the town's current systems in its 2017 audit regarding "Westport's Land Use Operations" and permitting process (available here):
- "There is no capability for applicant self-service." Instead, "applicants are required to meet with, and submit applications and forms to several Westport Land Use Departments." After that, "applicants have no online access to review the progress of their application";
- "Fee calculations must be done outside of the system and the results must be keyed in";
- Data inputted into the software "does not always travel across functions" even within the same department/software program and must be manually re-entered;
- "Paper copies of forms and Departmental approvals are printed out and transported from one department to another" where the information is manually inputted - AGAIN;
- "Site plans and building plans are not stored electronically and as such, anyone who needs to access them must go to the physical file location to look them up or paper copies have to be passed around." And when any change is made to the building or site plans - no matter how small - the applicant must reprint and circulate up to 15 new copies of the site plan depending on the circumstances;
- "There are no electronic notifications, electronic workflows and/or no dashboard functionality to notify a Department that there are permit applications in need of review," which means that applicants can take longer than necessary to review and complete;
- Even for town employees, the current software "does not easily show application progress through the overall process, rendering Town users in the dark until final approval or denial of the permit"; and
- When applicants call to check the status of their applications "staff must call around to other Departments and look through manual paper files to determine the status."
This entire schema is both fascinating and absurd to me. Keep in mind that this process was followed for each of the 5,000+ permits issued last fiscal year.
In its audit, Blum Shapiro concluded that if the town of Westport wants to improve its permitting process and general land use operations, its first priority should be purchasing/implementing unified land use permitting software. The firm also provided a list of broad functions and features the software should include and recommended that it be selected by a steering committee. First Selectman Jim Marpe formed a such committee, which included the town's Operations Director and members of the Land Use, IT, and Finance Departments.
The Committee issued a formal Request for Proposal, which identified the 365 software features it was looking for in any potential software platform. Four vendors responded. The steering committee also agreed to allow another vendor into the product evaluation to have more options to evaluate.
Ultimately, the committee selected Accela as its preferred vendor. Accela was the only bidder that met almost all of the needs identified by the steering committee and Blum Shapiro. It's a large, global company that's more likely to be around to provide customer service and update the software platform with new technology and features. This is important because the land use software is a long term investment of both employee time and resources. Accela's pricing was at the mid-point among the bidders. In addition, its customer recommendations were universally "glowing" and included endorsements from the towns of Framingham, Massachusetts and Ellington, Connecticut.
The requested $350,000 appropriation breaks down roughly as follows:
- $170,000 for software customization, system installation, and training,
- $105,000 subscription fee for the first year,
- $17,000 as a contingency for unforeseen expenses, and
- $60,000 for hardware we would need for any unified system (iPads for field inspectors, large format printers, new touch screen monitors)
The new system would also require a net increase to the annual budget of $65,000, but this is a relatively small portion of the over $2 million in fees that the town collected last fiscal year. The subscription fee also includes more than double the number of licensed users as compared to those authorized to use Westport's current motley crew of misfit land-use software. And more importantly, we'll be replacing said misfit software with a system that drastically improves efficiency, moves data to the cloud, eliminates the need for paper, and significantly improves the customer experience.
It's hard to predict if the resulting efficiencies will allow the town to reduce headcount or increase the number of permits processed each year, but that's possible as well.
If approved, the implementation of the Accela platform would take around 8 months and would be headed by zedIT Solutions, which is a third-party vendor that has on-boarded over 800 Accela clients.
AGENDA ITEM #2: Whether to appoint four individuals as trustees of the Westport Public Library
Pursuant to Section 34 of the Westport Town Charter, The RTM appoints 50% and up to 10 of the voting trustees of the Westport Public Library. Currently, the RTM is tasked with filling two vacancies and appointing two members.
Based on the minutes of the RTM Library, Museum & Arts Committee, it seems like the committee interviewed seven individuals. It subsequently voted unanimously to reappoint Jonathan Cunitz and appoint Jeremy Price, Scott Bennewitz, and Sivan Nemovicher Hong.
Because the RTM Library, Museum & Arts committee meeting minutes provide no background information regarding these four individuals, I did my best to provide you with some publicly available information on each one.
Jonathan Cunitz is the current treasurer of the Westport Public Library's Board of Trustees. He holds doctorate and master degrees from Harvard Business School, and worked as a consultant in areas of financial management, economics, accounting, and information systems. Mr. Cunitz also served as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the RTM.
Jeremy Price is a Director of Business Technology at Pfizer. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health Economics from the University of Rochester, was a Fulbright Scholar, and has an Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Scott Bennewitz works for IBM Global Services. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Princeton University and a Master of Science in Management from MIT.
I know Sivan Nemovicher Hong personally and she's a true superwoman. Here's her bio from the "Educators for Excellence" website, and please note that she's also the mother of two young boys. "Sivan Nemovicher Hong was the founding Board Chairwoman of Educators for Excellence. She is a former partner at The Bridgespan Group and has experience across a variety of nonprofit fields and topics including advocacy, funding models, civic engagement, education, and philanthropy. Sivan has also focused on social media and has co-authored several articles on this topic including, Tweeting for a Better World and Getting Social Media Right: A Short Guide for Nonprofit Organizations. Prior to joining Bridgespan, Sivan worked for 10 years as a management consultant to for-profit and non-profit organizations on strategy and operations issues. At PwC, Sivan was a Director in its Organizations, People and Change practice and served a mix of for-profit media and technology clients and non-profit clients in the global development and education sectors. Prior to PwC, Sivan worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she provided guidance about procurement and budgeting strategies to city, state, and federal government agencies. Sivan holds a BA from Rutgers University in Political Science. Her graduate studies centered on Social Justice and Game Theory (New York University) and International Relations (University of Virginia) where her dissertation focused on human rights and public policy. Sivan received her MBA in Strategy and Operations from The University of California, Irvine. She is a Board member of the Rita Allen Foundation and is an adjunct professor at the NYU Stern School of Business where she teaches courses on social entrepreneurship. She currently runs her own consulting practice."
Disclaimer: What’s above is my interpretation of the agenda and not an official communication from the RTM.