SOLUTION SUMMARY

PROBLEM/SITUATION: New York local governments were mandated by state law to improve their record keeping.

SOLUTION: A project

connecting local governments electronically.

JURISDICTION: New York local governments.

VENDORS: IBM; EMI Communications Corp.; Spry Inc.; Applications International Inc.

CONTACT: Tony Pascarella, TIP Project Manager, Hudson Valley Community College, 518/270-1594.

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By James Evans

Contributing Writer

In some ways, it was a dream come true for local governments. But in other ways, it was their worst nightmare. A New York law enacted in 1987 required local governments to develop a modern records management program and hire a records management officer. The Legislature intended to catapult local practices into the 21st century, when most official records will probably be stored electronically.

To government employees fatigued by the confusion, burden and inefficiency of paper records, the new statute was welcome news. But to mayors, managers and directors of cash-strapped cities, towns, villages and counties that faced compliance with the rule, it meant another financial headache. Modernization is fine, they said, but it takes money. The Legislature listened and created a fund to pay for the act in 1989 using money from fees paid to file and record documents with county governments.

By 1993 the State Archives and Records Administration Advisory Council, which was responsible for administering the Records Law and advising local governments about records and information management, concluded that telecommunications was an answer to municipal woes. A $2 million grant from the Improvement Fund was arranged to fund the Telecommunications Initiative Project (TIP), which would connect local governments across New York to a telecommunications network, and provide training and support. The project had to be completed within two years, and was administered by Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy -- selected because of its leadership and innovation in electronic delivery of information and services.

Tony Pascarella was hired in April 1994 as project director to develop an implementation plan and work with a steering committee consisting of local and state officials. "By using telecommunications, local government officials will learn how to share ideas, improve services, save time, streamline research, stay abreast of current events and network more easily with colleagues and peers regardless of distance or location," he said.

THE PLAN

The plan, created after six months of research, included:

Development of hardware, software and communication standards for participating governments. For governments failing to meet the standards, TIP would provide financial assistance to upgrade existing computer and peripheral equipment.

Selection of the Internet and a service provider as the preferred model to interconnect local governments statewide.

Selection of a software suite for such Internet services as e-mail, gopher, World Wide Web, FTP, newsgroups and other protocols.

The development of a customized curriculum to train local officials on how to use the software and a model to deliver training in various cities across the state.

The installation of a help desk via a toll-free number to be available during normal business hours.

The installation of an IBM RS6000 server and high-speed digital circuit to provide mailboxes, private discussion groups and phone book/directory services for all participants. A World Wide Web site would be established for local governments to deposit and provide access to records and related information to their customers. Also, the project staff would train and support local governments desiring their own Web page.

By the beginning of this year, TIP had connected and trained about 400 employees from more than 250 local governments statewide. Pascarella said he anticipates 270 governments, including all 62 counties, to be participating by July. Counties were automatically included if they chose because they provided the funding through document filing fees, while cities, towns and villages with exemplary records management programs received preference in a competitive selection process. Each participating entity