Government and Technology

Committee looks into county’s technology status

Kent is waiting to hear from Grand Rapids on riverfront property RFP.

March 29, 2013
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When members of the Kent County Executive Committee reviewed the progress that has been made to create a new strategic plan, the status of the county’s technology was the main topic of discussion.

To begin the process, County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio assembled a small group of administrators and commissioners to identify where the county excels and in what areas it needs to make improvements. One outcome from those talks on the improvements side involved technology.

The discussion resulted in the group suggesting that the county could continue to control its spending by utilizing more and better technology and possibly having the commission go completely paperless with a move toward iPads or other tablet-type computers.

Commissioner Michael Wawee, who noted that technology is continually changing, wondered where the county currently stood in the high-tech domain.

“How would you grade our technology?” he asked.

County IT Director Craig Paull said he would give the county a C. He added that the county gets done what it needs to do, but the challenge is to keep up with the latest consumer technology like tablets. He said the latest concept of BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, has caught everyone wondering what to do next. On top of that, the county has regulations to follow and security to maintain.

Even though the Gerald R. Ford International Airport has gone wireless, Paull said that move was done strictly for the flying public. He pointed out that the county has to serve the public and its staff through its system, which requires a firewall to serve as a digital barrier between the two, and that makes adding a wireless system more complex and expensive.

As far as switching to all electronic communication for commissioners, Commission Chairman Dan Koorndyk said if that move is taken, some training will be needed.

Wawee said the county should take that step and embrace tablet technology, as some municipalities have done in the county.

Delabbio said the details of going to tablets need to be worked out. For instance, does the county buy and own the tablets or do commissioners pick up that tab and the devices become their personal property? Delabbio said his staff will survey the 19 board members to get their thoughts on the issue.

Delabbio also said budgets have improved over the last several years, so the county may be able to invest more money into technology. “I would have given us a B-,” he said of the county’s technology status.

Koorndyk said the Executive Committee would review the results of the group discussion and talk about the strategic plan at its next meeting. The last time the county created a strategic plan was in 2010.

Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson said she is waiting for the city of Grand Rapids to decide whether it will include its North Monroe parking lot in the RFP the county plans to issue for its 1.28 acres of riverfront property on Monroe Avenue, roughly a block north of Michigan Street, and the lot across the street.

“They’re having internal discussions. It’s just adding an addendum to the RFP,” she said. The county bought the property on the river’s east bank in 2004 for $2.4 million.

Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt said he met with Kentwood officials recently about selling the city’s former library building to the county for its new clinic, which would serve clients in Kentwood and Wyoming.

“We hate to move away from this, but if we can’t meet our costs, we’ll have to walk away from this,” Britt said. He noted others are interested in buying the building, including a church.

Commission Vice Chairman Jim Saalfeld said the county’s collaboration work group approved its final report, which now goes to the collaboration subcommittee and then to the full commission.

“I’m very pleased with the quality of the report,” he said. “I’m hearing some much more positive comments from (One Kent Coalition) leaders than I’m hearing from (spokesman) Nyal Deems.”

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