At the May 9 Ayer Annual Town Meeting (ATM), there was some interesting discussion when it came to matters of information technology (IT). One was positive, the other two not so much.

On the positive side, Ayer voters approved the funding of a full-time IT staff position for the town. This is a positive and necessary step. However, as one resident who also works as a municipal IT administrator pointed out, Ayer approved a salary and benefits package that is well below the market based on what other area towns pay, but it is a start. I’m sure we can find a bright, young person looking to start or take the next step in their IT career who will greatly assist Ayer and help it move into the 21st century.

On the negative side were comments from Selectman Frank Maxant and an article put forth by John Canney, town clerk.

I’m paraphrasing, but Mr. Maxant said that information technology is a complex thing that no one understands and therefore we are at the mercy of IT professionals who will dictate what it might cost to do a particular project and we have no recourse but to pay. No, Mr. Maxant. You might feel this way about technology, but a great deal of us understand it, and many of us understand it quite well. We use it in our jobs, in our homes, and in our pockets via smartphones. Your discomfort and lack of knowledge is your own ignorance. Do not project that on the larger citizenry of Ayer.

Also, the IT marketplace is highly, highly competitive. In both the public and the private sector, options abound when it comes to procuring and using technology and related services. In the municipal government market in particular, where a bidding process is required and bidders know the stress public budgets are under, aggressive pricing is the norm. A well-written RFP and due diligence in reviewing responses by someone experienced in IT will yield a very competitive price.

So Ayer, like any customer considering IT goods and services, has plenty of options and is not at the mercy of the evil IT professional. As he is on so many matters, Mr. Maxant is simply out of touch with today’s world.

The other concerning event at ATM with regards to technology was Mr. Canney’s request for over $2,000 to bind recent vital records, such as birth certificates and the like, into books. Unfortunately the article passed. Fortunately, many town officials on stage and some voters in the audience recognized that the more efficient way to handle vital records is to scan these paper documents and make them electronic images. Document imaging technology became available commercially in the ‘ 80s. Over time it has become so cheap and prevalent it is now in many of our homes.

Mr. Canney’s past two opponents, David Bodhurtha and Steve Wentzell, discussed their plans to implement technology in the clerk’s office were they elected. Mr. Canney stated that he was not a big proponent of technology. Unfortunately, he won both elections.

Ayer needs to move forward into the 21st century. We need to hire, appoint, and elect town employees and officials that understand where technology can remove cost from running the town, do things more efficiently, and make it easier for Ayer citizens to do business with the town (such as online payments of tax bills, fees, fines, online access to vital records, a current and usable website, and so forth).

In future town elections, I urge Ayer voters to look at the experience, comfort, and plans to implement IT solutions in our candidates. At future Town Meetings, I also urge voters to consider supporting reasonable IT initiatives, and favor IT solutions over outdated methods such as binding paper records in books. We can make a great place better simply by embracing the present. Once we do that, we are then free to embrace the future.