City IT needs ‘woeful’

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly listed the Natchez tourism website. The address is correct now.

NATCHEZ — The city might finally be taking steps to get with the program — or the software, depending on how you’d like to look at things.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen heard from a volunteer group of IT specialists, called the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Technology, who have been working for a number of months researching the city’s departments to give information back to the city regarding its IT needs.

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What it found, said Allen Richard, a member of the team who presented the information, was that the city is “woefully needful” in the IT department. Based upon its findings, Richard said, the team put together three of the city’s fundamental IT needs.

First, he said, Natchez needs a full-time professional IT director operating on a departmental level.

Secondly, the director, who would also act as a department head, would do a complete assessment of the city’s existing departments and determine what the current needs are, Richard said.

“Some departments aren’t even using what’s available to them,” he said.

For other departments, though, he said, the director would merely act as a support system. For example, City Engineer David Gardner’s team has already integrated a large amount of technology into their department, Richard said, so the IT director would serve to help them when a problem arose or if advice was needed in moving forward.

The third fundamental IT need that’s necessary, Richard said, is a professional city website.

“‘Website’ is too simple of a (word),” he said. “What we’re really talking about is the face of the city to the outside world.

“Tourism is our industry right now. People come to Natchez to spend money and have a good time. The first thing a guy does who’s sitting in Indiana planning to come to Natchez is type ‘Natchez’ into Google to see what comes up.”

Later in the meeting, Tourism Director Connie Taunton pointed out that was revamped in July, and the overall website traffic has increased by more than 50 percent, while the overall page views have increased by more than 500 percent.

Richard had also pointed out, though, that it would be helpful for citizens to be able to start processes, such as filing for things like permits, on the city’s website.

The only way the three needs can be met, Richard said, is to have an IT director “on the ground” in the city daily.

Richard acknowledged that the city’s budget is tight, but if a director isn’t put into place soon, Natchez might fall too far behind to ever catch up.

Mayor Jake Middleton said as it is now, every city department is operating on its own little “island,” just buying whatever software and hardware it needs, and as a result, there’s not uniformity.

Alderman Dan Dillard said it’s important that the city take the steps to get the director into place.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to go to this technology, it’s a matter of when,” he said.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis wondered whether the IT director could be stationed at the new Natchez Transit System hub when construction begins.

Richard said IT personnel aren’t generally stationed in main buildings anyway, so that would work perfectly.

“IT people are usually put in dungeons,” he joked.

“Well, we’d put you in a new dungeon,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We’re trying to do what you’re recommending.”

In other news:

• The board passed a motion allowing Gardner to pursue hiring a company to aid with the North Natchez Drainage Project.

Gardner said he’s come up with a way for Phase II-B of the project to refrain from having such adverse impacts on the neighborhoods near the streets the city is repairing.

The project previously left trenches that were nearly 10-feet-wide on either side of the streets during the construction process, he said. However, he said, by utilizing technology that uses cameras to first go in and scope out existing drainage pipes under the streets, much of the damage to the streets could be avoided.

Hiring a company with the technology would cost between $5,000 and $7,500, Gardner said, and the money could be funded from the initial drainage project fund comprised of $2 million that came from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Overall, he said, it would ultimately save money on construction costs.

“We’ve got nothing to lose really,” he said.

• The board passed a motion to approve the repair of several roofs on city buildings, pending state approval of a $562,885 grant.

Gardner said the Mississippi Department of Archives and History should approve the project grant, which is headed by Architect Amelia Salmon, any day now.

Once an award is made on the grant, he said, it will take six months to complete the project.

The project includes repairing the roof on Natchez Fire Station No. 2, the entire police facility roof, the flat roof portion at the Senior Citizens Center and the low slope portions of the NAPAC African-American Museum, Salmon said.