A few years ago, Thomas Dufour attended a Brook Park, Ohio, City Council meeting as an interested citizen and left with the realization that his local government needed his help.
Council members were unsure of how to discover who owned the domain names for the city council’s website and deliberated on how to resolve the issue, ultimately hiring a private investigator to do so.
“They didn’t know who had it or did the city pay for it,” Dufour said. “But all the information on it was private. So as a website developer, I’m sitting there, I’m hearing this argument, I kind of want to be like, ‘I can probably answer all these questions if somebody wants to talk to me about it.’ But it was a huge fight.
“It got me wondering, ‘Is there anything in the city where if they have a technology-related question, if technology-related issues come up or if there’s legislation that comes up, who evaluates that? Who is the point of contact within the city?’”
This sparked an idea in Dufour: What if there was a collection of residents to advise the Brook Park mayor, currently Mike Gammella, and city council on technology-related inquiries?
He spoke with members of the city council, drafted legislation, handed it off to council member Brian Poindexter, who made some changes and began working to get it enacted.
With an unanimous vote, the bill was passed at a Nov. 19, 2019, city council meeting, which created Brook Park’s Technology and Innovation Committee. It consists of five members: the mayor, a city council member and three residents with experience in technology, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council.
In the Brook Park Code of Ordinances, it reads:
“The functions of the Technology and Innovation Committee shall be to review the City’s current and various technology programs and determine those which no longer have administrative, or fiscal values to the City or its citizens, and further recommend other programs and/or innovations which would be of benefit to the City.”
The Technology and Innovation Committee was officially up and running by March of this year with Poindexter as the city council appointee. The three Brook Park resident members of the committee are Dufour, a web developer; James Presley, a change implementation specialist; and Holly Klingler, the research and innovation coordinator at the Northeast Ohio Regional Library System.
The group was to meet monthly, but a few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic began to greatly hinder businesses and municipalities throughout the U.S. Instead, the committee members spoke with city council members and citizens directly on potential solutions to technology problems that were suddenly much more pertinent now that meeting in person was no longer an option.
“We were working on multiple things at the same time, and I think that we really kind of ramped up our thought process and our brainstorming,” Klingler said. “One of the things that we looked at was providing mobile hotspots for individuals who don’t necessarily have internet because we have a tremendous older population and a tremendous school-age population as well. So we wanted to consider options for mobile hotspots.”
With the hope of youth basketball returning at the local rec center at the end of this year, the committee also helped implement a way for the league to livestream its games. That way, it’s easier to limit the number of eager family members in the stands and further promote social distancing.
The committee has also embraced remedial tasks, including creating an inventory for all the technology equipment the city owns and gathering all social media and website passwords for the city.
Another responsibility of the committee is to explore what technology the city could implement in the future. Right now, they’re in the process of looking into municipal Wi-Fi at city parks, electric municipal vehicles as a cost-saving initiative and more.
Once their research is complete, it will be presented to the city council at an upcoming meeting.
“We’re working on putting together a memorandum of understanding with them to help start to bring autonomous driving and those kinds of high-tech transportation technologies into our city, both from a testing perspective,” Dufour said. “Then we also will hopefully get some businesses in here that want to set up shop and partner with NASA, which is right in our back door.”
All three committee members earn very little money from participating — no more than $100 per month — but they contribute because of their passion for making Brook Park a better, more innovative city.
They also believe the Technology and Innovation Committee can become a model for what other smaller cities can do to provide technological expertise and resources to a city council.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re doing what we’re doing is because we hope to be an example and a pioneer,” Klingler said. “And to let other cities know and other municipalities know that you don’t have to be a huge metropolitan city in order to implement some really good ideas. I think being proactive and working as a team and having a small but mighty group can be can be very powerful.”