IS staff still in the dark

As the Kitsap County Government prepares to move some offices and reshuffle others, its information systems (IS) department could be stuck in its present basement location for the next five years.

Several departments are scheduled to move into the new administration building this Spring, turning the existing courthouse into a law and justice center. The county is hoping to apply limited renovations to that space, in preparation for building a brand-new building to hold the courts and prosecutor by 2011.

The objective is to cut costs during this transitional period, which means there aren’t enough funds for the expensive operation of relocating the basement servers to another location.

The initial plans for the new administrative building included space for IS, but these intentions disappeared.

IS Director Bud Harris, hired for his current position in 2004, had worked for the county two years earlier.

“When I left here in 2002, there were plans to move into the new space,” he said. “When I came back all of the pieces were broken.”

The matter was addressed on Wednesday, when the county commissioners saw the plans for the courthouse renovation. Those call for the department to split between its current basement office and space vacated by the treasurer.

“I am totally miffed that information services isn’t moving into the new building,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen. “That department needed to move. They have the worst working conditions, and it’s unacceptable for anyone to work like that.”

The decision to stay put was made for a reason, but none of the current players can recall exactly when the decision was made. But former County Adminstrator Malcolm Fleming, now Bellingham’s chief administrative officer, said the move was financially motivated.

“It made more sense to keep them where they were,” he said. “It would require additional space, and it would be very expensive to move all the equipment.

“The decision was not made in a vacuum,” he said.

Fleming could not recall the exact date, but he said that all departments were involved in the decision.

The IS department’s 30 employees are scattered throughout a rabbit warren of small offices and cubicles in the basement of the courthouse. Space is tight, with up to four people working in windowless rooms with concrete walls.

It also shares the basement with the food concession, which there are no plans to move.

This condition is as serious as the space deficiency itself, as people are always wandering around the offices. Furthermore, the path jurors must take from the third floor courtrooms is two doors away from the server room itself.

“The security aspect needs to be addressed,” Harris said. “Who ever heard of a secure government data center in the middle of a lunchroom?”

The planned renovation will provide some relief, as it directs that several IS employees will occupy part of the office vacated by the county treasurer. This could allow the current staff to spread out a bit.

If the lunchroom moves to another location, IS could not only expand significantly but also increase its own security.

This won’t change the dark and depressing aspect of the office, however. People still don’t have windows, and there can be other hazards. A few months ago people were falling asleep at their desks, a problem traced to poor air recirculation. Harris said the problem was corrected.

“We had too many people in a small area,” he said. “So we had to improve air circulation.”

Harris needs to have at least some of his crew located near the equipment. Since that equipment is likely to stay put for a while, there is no chance for a wholesale change until a new server room is built.

Harris has filled the 25 percent vacancies that existed when he arrived in 2004, and said he now has a good team. He just hopes they will stay.

“Typically, IS people prefer working for private companies over government because of the pay,” Harris said. “I try to make up for that by providing better working conditions. But this makes it hard.”

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