Owatonna City Hall

When Owatonna City Hall — located on the West Hills campus — closed to the public due to COVID-19, several weak spots were exposed in the city’s software and technology. The City Council on Tuesday OK’d the use of CARES Act funding to bring these areas up to a more efficient level. (Annie Granlund/People’s Press)

As local governments move forward with navigating online or partially online public meetings, the Owatonna City Council is taking steps to ensure that while the public may not always like what they hear at council meetings, at least they’ll be able to hear them.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of life, including everyday government processes, data recording and tuning in to council meetings. With the use of CARES Act dollars from the federal government, the city will be able to take major steps to rectifying these issues and concerns.

One designation for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act dollars, which was approved during the council’s Tuesday meeting, was to bring the council chambers’ audio and video system up to standards for conducting virtual meetings. City Administrator Kris Busse said when government bodies were unable to conduct in-person meetings due to the pandemic, it became apparent that the present system was inadequate.

The council unanimously approved using $126,900 in CARES Act funding to install audio and video equipment inside the council chambers that will allow anyone to fully participate in a meeting remotely through Tierney Inc.

Also at the meeting, Finance Director Rhonda Moen asked the council to approve a contract for advisory services software to be provided by Government Finance Officers Association related to enterprise resource planning. The contract, which the council unanimously approved, will consume $49,500 of the city’s portion of the CARES Act. The remaining $28,500 cost will be paid through capital projects funds.

“We found ourselves with a closed City Hall and trying to convert everything to a paperless process,” Moen said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It became apparent that we had several hiccups and obstacles to overcomes in order to efficiently and effectively provide services to the citizens of Owatonna.”

Moen said the city had already planned on replacing its current financial software in 2021, so COVID-19 and the CARES Act provides an opportune time to have a thorough review of all the city’s business processes as they move forward toward the city’s strategic goal of being an “efficient, effective and economical government.”

The software package will encompass all the city’s processes and involves every city department in addressing their software needs, according to Moen.

A third inefficiency exposed at City Hall during COVID-19 was seen in the Human Resources Department in the means of how data is collected within the city. Lynn Gorski, the city HR director, requested the council approve the purchasing of Laserfiche software through CARES Act dollars to implement an online HR Infrastructure and Avante Records Management Modules.

“[Human Resources] helps the city stay lean, and these tools will continue to do that by allowing us to be efficient and effective,” Gorski said, adding the software will allow accurate workflow and filing for all records at the city. “This project creates a standardized and simplified indexing and processing while automatically filing public, private and confidential information.”

According to Gorski, the software will allow departments to have one location to organize, store, track changes and provide an audit trail of accessed data along with any legal holds and changes to the data.

The council unanimously approved utilizing $14,785 from the city’s CARES Act funding to purchase the software and modules. Ongoing expenses will amount to $1,200 a year, which Gorski said will be divided among each department to lessen the impact on budgets.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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