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Technology Makes City Agendas

New mayors value IT and want effective E-governments.
A new breed of mayors and heightened concerns about public safety are putting IT initiatives near the top of this year's agenda for more city governments. Several have hired or are looking for people to head their IT operations.

Cathilea Robinett

Public safety is a technology point for mayors, Center for Digital Government's Robinett says.
Some of the new mayors are from a younger generation than their predecessors and are more comfortable with technology, says Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. "For mayors, public safety has always been the entry point for technology," she says. That's increasingly true, as public-safety issues are driven by potential terrorist threats.

One example is 31-year-old Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's youngest mayor, who during his campaign said the Detroit Police Department is one of his top priorities. He wants to use computer technology to help solve crimes.

A campaign promise from recently elected Cleveland mayor Jane Campbell is to create an office of technology and innovation and appoint the city's first "tech czar." Cleveland's chief development officer Tim Mueller, co-founder of Web-design firm Vantage One Communications, is in charge of finding a CIO who can provide a strategic overview of municipal technology and coordinate IT efforts, something Cleveland has lacked.

City workers often have trouble E-mailing colleagues because several E-mail systems from past administrations don't communicate with each other. "Before, the issues were more along the lines of, 'How do we make sure the financial database is backed up?' " Mueller says. Campbell wants an effective E-government and robust city infrastructure, in part to attract more technology companies. "We're looking within the walls of City Hall and asking, how do we make sure those who come here to live and breathe technology are able to reach the city government easily?" Mueller says.

In recent weeks, several cities have appointed new heads of IT, including Bloomington, Ind., CIO Greg Volan and New York IT commissioner Gino Menchini. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is no stranger to technology--he's made billions from it. And he certainly values IT's role in his administration--Menchini's appointment was one of the first he made. "That usually doesn't happen with an IT office," Robinett says. In the past, she adds, many cities tended to fill other posts first.