Procurement: Town of Arlington MA Story

Arlington Opens Town Meeting

Arlington is a “town” in the New England parlance of local government.   It has a Board of Selectmen instead of a city council and its chief legislative body, Town Meeting meets several days each spring,   to address major town issues, warrants and to pass the town budget.  The Town meeting opens each season with f and carrying the American flag to the front of the hall.  Arlington also operates with the Town Manager form of government   the strongest of all town forms of government in terms of the level of central authority vested in one person.  The current Town Manager, Adam Chapdelaine, is one of the youngest managers in New England and is rapidly gaining a progressive reputation in New England, as well as with his colleagues in ICMA.

Like other municipalities in the state, the town often uses the state’s procurement process to take advantage of pre-approved goods and services.  But there has not been a tradition of collaborative purchasing among cities and towns.  The state/ municipal structure is more a “hub and spoke” model with everything passing through the state, than a “matrix” model with local officials working directly with other cities and towns with similar interests.  There is no statewide network of regional government to cover facilitate cooperative groups among the 365 cities and towns.

While moving the municipality in a digital direction is not an overt public policy, the town uses an opportunistic approach, taking advantage of opportunities to build digital capacity when those opportunities are available.  In the mid-90’s the approving authority for the town’s capital budget requests, the Capital Planning Committee (CPC), noted that departmental requests were coming in for new computer systems which did not work together.  The Town, in response, set up the Internet Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC) to review all technology related capital requests for redundancy, interoperability and technological suitability for the problem at hand.  The committee also undertook a screening process to determine the baseline equipment in each department and the need for ITAC’s technology advice.    CPC made the decision to not accept requests for capital investment in technology unless ITAC had reviewed and approved the request.  In recent years ITAC, under the leadership of David Good, the Town’s IT Director, has, for example, reviewed new telephony, dispatch and software purchases.

One of the first challenges of ITAC was to undertake a needs assessment covering all municipal and school departments.  The committee met with every department on the town side and with the Director of Technology on the school side. The purpose of the meetings was to determine what the current status of technology was in the department, how technology was viewed by the department, and what the perceived future technology needs of the department were. The committee refined the information gathered with the intent of developing a technology plan which addresses the identified priorities. The committee looked at each department in the following functional areas to determine where symmetries were and to identify common themes: Education of residents; events/ response; external communications; land and parcels; money transactions; people/ human resources; push communication to public and training staff. The Needs Assessment Priorities are summarized at the end of this report. The Committee will be using these in the development of the final report and in building the multi-year technology plan.

In 2012 the ITAC and the Town Manager led the creation of the town’s first IT Strategic Plan  .  This Plan has become the new gateway within the municipality to ensure standards and policies are adhered to by each department and that IT goals are prioritized (and re-prioritized each year) so that they are achieved and so all departments move forward in their digital competence evenly, according to their needs.

IT related purchases have become part of the fabric of the municipality, with some exceptions.  New grant-supported acquisitions, like LED streetlights, can jump past the normal screening process.  Or, in this case, the screening process may not have been robust enough to seek out vendors with street lighting offers that included a richer array of digital tools.  In another exception, a department head discovered that current software no longer complied with federal regulations for a program the department ran.  She needed to replace the software.  There was no advanced plan to get this software so she needed to call for an “emergency” inclusion in the strategic plan.  She also needed to find appropriate vendors.  Since it was new software, she did not know who to call to find potential bidders so she was left to call department heads like herself in other communities.  While the municipality’s strategic plan can address many key policy issues, there is still more to be done to expand the pool of bidders, make  finding bidders easier, closing loopholes allowing off-plan digital acquisitions and expanding criteria to look for digital enhancement opportunities in more traditional technology and infrastructure purchases.

City Website:
Population:   42,844 (2010)
Form of Government:  Town Manager


This article was prepared by Barbara Thornton based, in part, on interviews with Arlington IT Director, David Good.  It was prepared for the Smart Cities Council in November, 2015.

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