Alderman Chris Ettori is having trouble getting emails from City Hall.
They show up, he said, but frequently with a delay of hours and sometimes more than a day after they are sent. It got bad enough that he went through two months of emails and compiled a spreadsheet showing each delay, which was enough to convince his fellow aldermen to vote Monday to send the issue to the General Committee.
The issue popped up at a time when the city is looking at modernizing its information technology in a variety of ways, with expenditures in the proposed FY 2020 budget for items such as moving certain services onto cloud-based computing and upgrading computers in the fire department.
Ettori said he noticed the email issue in mid-September, and since he started bringing it up, a couple of other aldermen have reported similar delays.
“We believe it’s happening to everyone who has a Gmail account,” he said. “It’s on my phone — I’m always looking at it, so I think I noticed before other people.”
The spreadsheet Ettori assembled showed that of 102 City Hall emails from Sept. 17 to Dec. 3, only 26 came without delay. Nine came in less than 10 minutes and 20 came in less than 20 minutes. Twelve took 45 minutes to an hour and 10 took about 2 hours. A dozen took four to six hours while half that many came in 8 to 10.
Five took more than a full day, with the longest delay clocked at 42 hours and 17 minutes.
“If we’re getting information as a board, we want to get it in time to do something about it,” he said.
Ettori said he could not find any patterns based on office of origin of the emails, how many people were copied on them or whether they had attachments. The only noticeable trend, he said, was that emails in response to ones he sent seemed to arrive properly.
City Clerk Henry Heck said the contractor the city uses for IT work suspects the issue is on Google’s end.
“It seems kind of strange,” Heck said. “Gmail’s pretty big and (Ettori’s) been using that account since he was an alderman.”
Heck said no other problems with city email have been reported.
“If I go away for a day, I have 200 emails when I get back,” he said. “It’s aldermen-specific, and of those aldermen, Gmail-specific.”
Ettori said planned updates to the city’s IT may solve the problem. The proposed budget for the city treasurer’s office includes $8,400 to move the city to a cloud-based email server.
“We’ll have to have a bigger discussion on where we want to go with that,” Treasurer Mary Markowski said during a budget hearing this week.
During a discussion of the fire department’s desire for updated computer systems, Alderman Scott Tommola suggested it might be time for the city to consider having its own IT department. He said this could create consistency and connectivity across departments and possibly make it easier to save money on computers through bulk purchasing.
Mayor David Allaire said he was reviewing how much the city has spent across the board on IT services, but that for the moment he was unconvinced.
“Any time you add a new person to the payroll, it’s going to be permanent,” he said. “You’re not going to get an IT person for less than $75,000. With benefits, you’re talking $100,000 a year. I’m not going to say I’m totally against it, but I’m leaning against it right now.”