After months of deliberation, Southold Town is poised this month to hire a Kansas-based firm to develop its new website.
Town Board members approved a resolution Tuesday afternoon to seek a contract with CivicPlus, a company that specializes in websites for municipalities. They stopped short of adopting a resolution approving the contract after two members of the public chastised the board for attempting to vote on the contract before it was available for the public to see, and instead amended the wording of the resolution to state that they were “seeking the contract” instead.
Members of an internal town committee who vetted the 12 companies that bid on the contract told the Town Board at a work session on the morning of Nov. 22 that the CivicPlus websites have many modern conveniences, including the ability to live stream video, mobile phone apps and social media integration.
The cost the first year, including setting up the website, would be $21,287, said town IT director Lloyd Reisenberg at the work session. The company would charge $3,150 for maintenance in future years, and a little more than $1,000 per year for video storage, which he said would actually save the town money over its current expenditures on video storage.
CivicPlus’s website states that it has developed nearly 1,000 websites for municipalities, and includes links to 42 of their websites throughout the country. Mr. Reisenberg said that he spoke with officials from Glens Falls, NY, who are using the service and are very happy with it.
Glens Falls’ website is available at www.cityofglensfalls.com.
At the work session, some board members were concerned that members of the public might post inappropriate comments on the town’s Facebook page if they decide to take advantage of the social media tools.
Johanna Lane of Cutchogue, who spoke at the afternoon meeting, was also concerned about the social media interface. She said that a third party can’t manage the town’s Facebook account, particularly during an emergency.
Ms. Lane said that she also believes the town should use a web design service that uses open source code, such as WordPress. She said that CivicPlus uses proprietary software, and the town will not be able to manage a website CivicPlus creates if they decide not to use their services in the future.
She said that she would have been happy to have had the opportunity to design a WordPress site for the town, but that she was told by Deputy Town Supervisor Phillip Beltz before the bidding process began that the town had already decided what company it would use.
“That’s an absolute lie,” said Mr. Beltz, who was in the audience Tuesday afternoon.
“The process was, anybody that wanted to respond to that RFP should have responded to that RFP,” he said, adding that the town received responses from all over the country.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said that there are only two staffers in the IT department, and they don’t have enough time to manage an open source website.
Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz also said that he was dismayed at the town’s decision to use CivicPlus.
Mr. Schwartz said that he was upset that the town didn’t ask him to be a part of the internal committee that chose the website designer.
“Was there anybody on the committee who ever built a successful website?…I don’t think so,” he said.
Mr. Beltz said that Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Lane were two of the three people who showed up for a public forum on the website design selection process this past summer, and they made helpful suggestions during that meeting. But he added that he thinks their comments now undermine the committee’s work.
“Our interest was the public as much as it was for internal governing,” he said.
Mr. Schwartz has also asked the town to hire him to work on the website in the past, but Mr. Russell said that a previous Town Board declined his help.
“If you’re looking to make money from the town you should have submitted an RFP,” Mr. Russell told Mr. Schwartz.