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Dallas CIO of 4 Years Heads to Private Sector

Bill Zielinski, who has led the Information and Technology Services department since 2020, will step down April 30. In recent years, he led the city’s response to a ransomware attack, and to the deletion of millions of police records.

(TNS) — Dallas’ chief information officer, who in recent years oversaw the city’s response to a ransomware attack and an employee deleting millions of electronic police records, is resigning.
Dallas CIO William Bill Zielinski at Digital Cities Summit (1).jpg
Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski

Bill Zielinski has led the city’s Information and Technology Services since 2020 and is leaving the city on April 30. Brian Gardner, the city’s chief information security officer, will be the department’s interim director. Zielinski oversees a department with a budget of around $132 million and made $225,000 a year as chief information officer, according to city salary data as of Jan. 1.

Zielinski declined to say what his next move would be, but told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that after more than 30 years in government jobs he was moving to the private sector. He said he had been looking for a new job for the last five or six months. He said his departure is not linked to the exit of City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who was recently hired as Austin’s city manager.

“I had this great opportunity that came my way that, at the end of the day, given where I am in my career and where I am in my life, was just a great match. And so I said yes,” Zielinski told The News. “And so I’ll take several weeks off and then I will start a new gig in private industry.”

Broadnax in a memo to the City Council on Monday said Zielinski notified him of the resignation two weeks ago. Broadnax credited Zielinski with overseeing upgrades to the city’s core network, 911 emergency communications and the human resources management system. He also noted other accomplishments such as Zielinski overseeing a pilot program to address Internet access gaps in Dallas, developing a program focused on making sure all city surveillance cameras are maintained and comply with privacy and data security laws, and launching a monthly report tracking city IT security, management, projects and performance metrics.

The monthly reports began in 2022 after multiple City Council members expressed concern they weren’t being briefed frequently enough on the city’s IT system. The department has faced scrutiny under Zielinski’s leadership after several high-profile issues related to the city’s IT infrastructure, including criticism that some systems are outdated.

A city IT employee in 2021 deleted millions of police files, which an independent review later determined was likely accidental. An internal review found the IT department lacked clear rules on how to store data. That same year an activist group said it received hundreds of hours of mostly Dallas police aerial surveillance footage from an anonymous hacker claiming to target law enforcement data in unsecured cloud storage. Also in 2021, the city repeatedly had issues with a system meant to alert firefighters of emergency calls while inside fire stations because not all station computers were upgraded from Windows 7.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn said she worked with Zielinski to put the monthly reports into place.

“Bill inherited a challenging department with historic underinvestment and has made substantial improvements in modernizing IT hardware, software, staff training and IT governance,” she said. “He’s learned much about how the city works and tried to improve overall processes.”

A ransomware attack in 2023 took some city computers and services offline for weeks and impacted more than 30,000 people whose addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal information were exposed in the data breach. Broadnax and other city officials have said they believed the impact from the attack could have been worse.

“Obviously you don’t want to be attacked,” Zielinski told The News on Tuesday. “But in terms of our preparation and our planning and our response to that, I’m very proud of the team here for the work that they did.”

In response to the ransomware attack, city officials have put more of a focus on addressing digital vulnerabilities and preventing future attacks, Zielinski said.

The City Council last August approved setting aside nearly $8.6 million to pay vendors for hardware, software, incident response and consulting services in response to the ransomware attack. The City Council also last year approved several technology upgrades meant to help boost the city’s cyber defense, including a nearly $4 million deal to get a new system that alerts the city’s IT department of possible cyber attacks.

Zielinski said Dallas was continuing work to modernize and improve its IT system and mentioned the city’s plans for a new city data center at a former IBM building near the police headquarters that the city is buying for $1.

“There’s nothing pushing me to leave. The city has been extremely supportive both from city management through to the council,” Zielinski said. “I’m nothing but pleased with the support that the city has provided to me here in this role and to the IT organization, and I expect and I hope to continue to see that kind of support here in the organization.”

©2024 The Dallas Morning News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Editor’s note: In May, outgoing Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski talked at length with Industry Insider — Texas, part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.