Scranton, Pa., Mayor Declares Emergency to Secure IT Services

Vacancies in Scranton's Information Technology Department prompted Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti to declare an emergency to quickly secure third-party IT services until the positions are filled.

downtown scranton
Downtown Scranton, Pa.
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/macgodbrad/7815469216/" target="_blank"> Flickr/Brand Clinesmith</a>
(TNS) — Vacancies in Scranton's Information Technology Department prompted Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti to declare an emergency to quickly secure third-party IT services until the positions are filled.

The city's IT network systems manager, former department Director Frank Swietnicki , resigned unexpectedly April 5. Swietnicki transitioned to the network systems manager role, a new position created in the 2021 budget, at the beginning of the year as part of a "reorganization" of the department, city Business Administrator Carl Deeley said. The director position has remained open since the transition.

While the Cognetti administration is actively recruiting to fill both vacancies, the emergency declaration allowed Scranton to contract with Jessup-based Bedrock Technology to provide IT services without soliciting competitive bids. The city required the service immediately to safeguard its data network and operations and respond to potential IT issues, Deeley said.

Officials anticipate paying Bedrock about $12,750 a month, though Deeley said that could change slightly based on discussions that will happen this week. The firm was already providing other services for the city and has "unique knowledge" of Scranton's network and IT operations, Deeley wrote in a memo to council.

Dated April 16, the emergency declaration was signed by Cognetti and City Controller John Murray . But Murray, who is challenging Cognetti for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 18 primary election, noted his apprehension in a pointed letter to the mayor.

In the letter, Murray asked if he should assume the remaining three employees in the department "are not capable of filling in to cover short term solutions" until the vacancies are plugged. He also argued Cognetti should have been prepared for Swietnicki's resignation since he was "demoted" from the director position.

"The only legitimate reason I could find for signing the Emergency Declaration is the safety of our citizens and first responders should the system come crashing down," Murray wrote. "I took your word that this is the only solution to this problem in the short term, please don't let me discover otherwise."

Cognetti declined to comment on Murray's letter, but Deeley responded in a phone interview Tuesday.

From a network perspective, Deeley said the remaining three IT employees don't have the same knowledge as Swietnicki, which is why Bedrock's services are necessary. Swietnicki's transition from the director position was not a demotion, Deeley said, but a move to a new role that better aligned with his skills, knowledge and expertise. He earned the same salary as IT network systems manager as he did as director in 2020, Deeley said.

Murray's letter also referenced "the recent cut" in health care benefits as a reason the administration should have anticipated Swietnicki's resignation. All nonunion employees will contribute more toward their health care starting May 1, but Deeley rejected the notion there were any cuts to benefits.

"I'm sure he has his own reasons for moving on," Deeley said of Swietnicki. "He's a young guy. He's got a young family. He has an opportunity to expand his career in a private industry and all the good stuff that goes with that."

Murray recommended the administration begin preparing a request for proposals for IT services should it be unable to fill the vacancies in the next couple weeks, noting in the letter the emergency declaration cannot be a never-ending one.

The city will put out an RFP if the process of plugging the vacancies "drags out too much longer," Deeley said.

Meeting virtually Tuesday, city council members expressed concern about what they called the open-endedness of the emergency declaration. Members worry monthly costs will add up if Bedrock provides services for an extended period should the administration have difficulty filling the vacancies.

"I think we need to know a timeline," council President Bill Gaughan said. "I just want to make sure the administration has a plan in place ... so that we don't have this company in for months and months and months and we're shelling out a significant amount of money because someone resigned."

Council had several questions on the matter it will pose to the administration and requested a copy of the Bedrock contract.

Members also unanimously approved Councilwoman Jessica Rothchild's motion to request regular updates from the administration on personnel changes. Rothchild suggested monthly updates to keep council apprised of those developments.

Attempts to reach Swietnicki were unsuccessful.

(c)2021 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.