There's a technology gap that's growing wider at Cleveland's city hall. While the private sector continues to upgrade its computer capabilities, most workers at 601 Lakeside find themselves without e-mail or even internet access. This lack of technology has city leaders turning their keyboards to the public for help. 90.3 WCPN's Mike West has this report.
Jim Cookinham: OK, we've turned the computer on and were waiting for it to get going. Normally if we had a faster computer it would probably be on pretty much immediately.
Mike West: We're in the office of a top official at Cleveland city hall with Jim Cookinham. He's the president of the Northeast Ohio Software Association, or NEOSA.
JC: So we're waiting. A lot of these computers, because they are so old, if you tried to load the new software, or the newest releases of software, the most productive really wouldn't work, because it would be so slow, so aggravating, it would be a very unpleasant experience to use the computer.
MW: Most of the city's computers are Pentium 1 or 486 models, which were state of the art in the mid-nineties. But in the rapidly changing high tech world, they might as well be antiques.
JC: We're still waiting. We've gotten to the Windows 98 screen.
MW: Seven years ago the machines did the job, but now city officials say they can't keep up. That's one of the reasons most city employees don't have access to outside e-mail, can't log on to the internet, or send attachments to others.
JC: And now it finally got to where it allows me to log in.
MW: As head of NEOSA, Cookinham wants to help. He's launched a program called Adoptaputer. The idea is to ask business owners and individuals to donate at least $1,600 to buy new computers.
But why was the city was left in the high-tech dust in the first place? City Councilman Mike Polensek ponders this question often.
Mike Polensek: What happened to all the money that we spent over the last two years on computer equipment? We spent millions and millions of dollars of up-grading city computers, the system for the Y2K issue and now we find out as the administration gets more involved in each division/department that our systems are totally outdated. We find ourselves in the technology gap here.
MW: The city budget is approved by council, but Polensek insists he had no idea how far behind many departments have fallen, and he thought enough money was being spent to avoid the current crisis.
MP: It flies in the face of all this money we have spent over the last 2 to 3 years on computer upgrades and systems and again you have to ask "where did it go" I mean what did they purchase, who was in charge of this.
MW: City administrators say they need to have new computer equipment to do a better job of serving citizens. Tim Mueller is Cleveland's new chief development officer and the former owner of an information technology company.
Tim Mueller: We have not been able to look at large chunks of dollars to upgrade our technology and I don't think it's that different from many other cities, many other governments in the area because sometimes aside from program cuts and people cuts you really don't look at technology as being the most important thing, today with mayor campbell she understands that these are tools. These are tools that her colleagues have to have, we have nearly 10,000 employees within the city.
MW: But the city of Akron doesn't share the problem. A spokesman for the mayor says for at least six years city workers have had access to the internet, e-mail and the computer programs needed to run them. While in Youngstown, public servants can log onto the internet and have inter-office e-mail. But Youngstown is also behind when it comes to outside e-mail.
Mueller says in cities that have found money to buy computers and set up networks, residents are able report service problems electronically, check on permits and get answers to city government questions much quicker. He says construction jobs would also proceed faster if Cleveland workers had more electronic tools.
TM: We are mostly customer facing, we have customers whether they be homeowners who want to redo their garage, whether they be business owners who want to apply for a low interest loan or whether it be our partners that want to help us create new business here in cleveland, that's how you communicate today, that's how you communicated in 1995, but it's how you communicate even more today.
MW: Business and political leaders say more needs to be done to expand the region's manufacturing base into the so-called "high-tech economy."
Jim Cookinham of NEOSA says Mayor Jane Campbell wants to help, and has gotten a good start by admitting there's a problem and agreeing to accept help in the form of the adopaputer program.
JC: It's a real shift from where it's been before, and in fact you know having the city of cleveland update their web site, update their processes makes a statement about northeast ohio being high tech. So we think it's an important kind of stamp on the region to have the city adopt these technologies, so were excited about it.
MW: Adoptaputer will allow the people who donate to have their name or their company etched on the machines. City officials aren't optimistic they'll be swamped with gifts, but they say even if only one new computer is donated than it will be one more than they had before. The city is also moving forward in their efforts to create a network between various departments. Fiber optic cable has been installed between nearly a dozen city office buildings. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3 WCPN News.