Editorial: Penny wise and still no new Chester government website

©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

If members of the Chester Select Board honestly believe that $10,000 would buy the town a brand-spanking new website with all the bells and whistles that would lure businesses to Chester and be a useful tool for its residents, I’ve got a ski mountain in Ludlow I’d like to sell them.

High-functioning websites with hundreds of pages for information and archives and all those “bells and whistles” cost money. (Yes, you can have perfectly good, small website that meets your personal or small business needs for much less. But a municipal website is a complex thing and, in addition to the cost of development,  you must factor in the staff time you will have to put into it. Then the real dollar cost mounts quickly.)

A website is a town’s, a state’s, a business’s face to the entire world.Comment please

That initial $10,000 — and $20,000 to $30,000 more — should have been paid directly to experienced web designers and developers. Instead, the Select Board took the bargain route of using an enthusiastic but inexperienced and unproven startup.

As our article points out, the Chester Select Board rushed into a web design and development contract without understanding the process or what would be expected of town staff.

Now, that startup believes its work is over, and the rest is up to town office staff, where the cost of their labor on the website is unknowable among salaries and time lost to other projects.

What could the Select Board have done differently before spending a dime?

  • First, it could have formed a committee of Select Board members and town residents to research the real costs in creating a website. Members also should have gone “window shopping,” looking at oodles of  town, city and state websites to decide what they like and don’t like. They also would have been educated about the basics of website construction, learned about content management systems, widgets, plugins, fonts, readability and what is needed for a government website to operate well. And they would have learned that the design is crucial to the function.
  • It could have invited professional web developers to explain the entire — and laborious — process, and what would be needed from town staff to get the job done. Board members then would have learned just how much expertise it takes to code the backside of a website to make all those bells tinkle and those whistles blow exactly when and how you want them to and how much staff time it takes to populate and check all of those pages.
  • With knowledge in hand, the board then could have put the website and design work out for bid, and found a professional company that met town needs. We would have seen the work finished and the website launched probably no later than October 2013.

But none of that due diligence was done. Instead, claiming that the $10,000 that it took from the Economic Development Fund “wasn’t coming out of taxpayers’ hides,” the Select Board allowed it to be treated like Monopoly money. And instead of trying to understand the technology even a little bit to know if they were buying a pig in a poke, we were told by one member that they’d “let the technology take care of itself.”

Where was the oversight?

We should remember that last November, the Select Board had nearly jumped out of its knickers at the chance to fork over $7,000 to the Historical Society for 300 reenactors, and $8,000 for a town-wide celebration, also from the Economic Development Fund. Cooler heads prevailed when citizens aired their concerns.

With all of the touting of fiscal responsibility that some members do at every Select Board meeting, where is the good common sense?

This Select Board is truly penny wise and pound foolish.

–Cynthia Prairie

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Filed Under: CommentaryLatest NewsTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mike says:

    Michele, I work with Indelible Inc. (the company that did the site) and I want to apologize for your poor experience. Please get in touch with me at mike@becomeindelible.com. I’d like to discuss your concerns and do what I can do to help.

  2. Ron Jackson says:

    Total ineptitude on the part of the Select Board on this one. The town had a website, they wanted a better one. Fine – first you start with seeing if you can improve the current site. The Select Board didn’t do that. If you decide to go anew, you get proposals from several qualified vendors. The Select Board didn’t do that, they got one proposal for $30,000 from a qualified vendor, and a $10,000 proposal from an individual with no references and no portfolio. With no further discussion, they wrote a check to the individual. Finally, once the project starts – you follow up. You keep after your vendor if they are not delivering, and you don’t pay for poor quality work. The Select Board didn’t do that either. Instead, they wrote a check then washed their hands and expected magic to happen. All I can say is it’s a pity there weren’t more choices on the ballot this past election.

  3. Michele says:

    A beautiful website had already been created at the time of the bridges being closed. Why start over when you have one already? This first website was/is very user friendly, as was the website creator, allowing for seasonal picture changes etc. My experience as a business owner with the creator of this new site was far from perfect. I was told I could not use my own images, which is silly considering mine are much higher quality than those quickly taken onside my shop “on the fly.” I was never even e-mailed a link to see the site. It is time Chester starts caring more about local businesses.