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[whitespace] New grand jury report finds local cities unprepared for Y2K meltdown

By Paula Harris

IF YOU'RE WONDERING how your Sonoma County city or town will weather the potential Y2K fallout, you may glean some telling information from a new Sonoma County grand jury report titled "Year 2000 Readiness of Sonoma County Governments."

The findings, which reflect the information provided to the grand jury as of Jan. 1, don't do much to quell millennium jitters.

"The general feeling is that the county [departments are] doing a good job but some special districts are in trouble," says grand jury foreperson Roberta Paskos. "Some districts are relying on the county to take care of it and not understanding the county parameters and what they have to do for themselves."

The report concludes that although many local cities, towns, and county agencies have made progress in attacking the Y2K problem, "a number of assessments and plans are incomplete and fall short of solving the problem." In addition, states the report, "Some of the cities have taken what appears to be an overly optimistic approach to the problem, in many cases assuming that problems will be addressed when they occur."

According to the report, many governmental entities indicate an intent to revert to manual systems as a contingency plan, but the grand jury summary states: "There is no indication [officials] have assessed whether this is feasible, and what costs, if any, would be required to implement their contingency plan. Despite thorough testing, problems may still occur."

The survey elicited the following responses from cities and towns: Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol don't have "detailed plans in place" to deal with Y2K. And Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, and Sonoma have not "developed a contingency plan" for their respective cities. In addition, many cities won't convert "mission-critical applications" to be Y2K-compliant until the latter half of 1999.

The grand jury defines "mission critical" as causing a hazard or being unable to provide a crucial service if the system fails. In the case of Rohnert Park, mission-critical applications will be converted on Dec. 31, 1999.

Cutting it a tad close? Rohnert Park City Manager Joe Netter did not return a call asking for clarification.

Grand jury members say they are surprised by the findings. "Our intent was not a detailed evaluation, but to identify who'd done what and who hadn't," explains Virginia Rago, grand jury member and a former computer systems manager who chairs the grand jury's Y2K committee. "I was surprised people hadn't at least assessed where they are and that very few had a contingency budget in case something didn't work.

"And some [entities] are dependent on outside software vendors to give them new versions by June, July, or September, but that doesn't mean it's going to be done. What plans have they made if those people don't come through?" she wonders.

Still, Healdsburg City Manager Chet Wystepek is optimistic. "We'll have more people on standby on the night [of Dec. 31]," he says. "I think we're well prepared and our philosophy is: 'If anything goes wrong, we'll be able to fix it.' "

He adds that the city hopes to have a $200,000 software system upgrade in place by September.

Ronald Puccinelli, Y2K coordinator for Sebastopol, says the scope of the problem in that west county town is minimal. "We've been looking at this for five years to try to find a problem, and we can't find one," he claims. "Neither the water system nor the sewer system is computerized."

He says the local police dispatch system and the financial system have been taken care of. "Sebastopol started early and finished early," he says, adding, "But the grand jury should have looked at it last year. Looking at it nine months before [year's end] is silly."

Meanwhile, grand jury members are urging citizens to get involved. "Call the city where you live and ask them [about Y2K]," advises Rago. "The public has only heard very general statements, and city representatives haven't said much. We need to know if there will be water, police, and fire [services]"


Copies of the full Y2K report are available at the county offices, Room 110, 600 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa.

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From the March 4-10, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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