After a year’s wait, new Chester website caught in a web of uncertainty

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

On July 3, 2013, the Chester Select Board voted to have a new town website constructed, using economic development funds to pay $10,000 to a company that had not yet been incorporated and had constructed just one website – its own.

Kyle Rogstad, one of the partners in Creating Mark,  assured the board that the site would be done in six to eight weeks. The contract was signed on July 10, 2013 and included an estimated completion date of Aug. 12, 2013.

New Chester website. Screenshot taken in June.

New Chester website. Screenshot taken in June. Click to enlarge.

One year later, the site is live, but not completed and it’s plagued with a number of problems, errors and design flaws, not to mention a recurring photographic theme of dandelions. The business directory that was the justification for using development funds has a handful of listings. Early this year, the town of Chester renewed its annual subscription to to keep its current site — — going until the new site – – is ready to stand on its own. It is uncertain how long that will be.

So what happened?

For many years, Chester has contracted with Avenet, a company that hosts more than 1,500 municipal websites among hundreds of other nonprofits. Among the domain names the company uses is

Avenet provides web hosting along with a template to enter local content, including photos, information about town services, agendas, minutes and other town business. For $550 per year, Avenet offers unlimited tech support, daily backups of files, training, maintenance and upgrades to the software that runs behind the information and makes it all fall into place. The town is responsible for putting up information and keeping that content current.

Avenet also offers a lot of add-ons including a payment portal (for property taxes, fees and utility bills) video on demand (to stream meetings live), “superforms” (for signups, online polls and surveys and comments and citizen reports) and integration for social media like Facebook and Twitter. Chester does not use these features.

Kyle Rogstad speaks to the Select Board about his plan for a new government website.

Kyle Rogstad speaks to the Select Board about his plan for a new government website back in the summer of 2013.

For several years, the Chester Select Board has expressed a desire to change the town’s web presence. In an economic policy statement presented at the April 3, 2013 meeting, the Select Board called for a “new and enhanced town website.” It was their vision that the site would attract businesses to town by featuring existing businesses in a directory and by listing real estate available for development. According to Julie Hance, assistant to the town manager, one web developer was contacted and gave an estimate of $30,000 for such a site.

According to the approved minutes of the July 3, 2013 Select Board meeting, town manager David Pisha contacted Kyle Rogstad – who was about to form a company with his partner Mike Dion – and Pisha asked Rogstad for a proposal to create a new website.

When Rogstad appeared with a price of just $10,000, the board did not question the $20,000 difference between the two estimates, but approved it at that night’s meeting, authorizing the money to come out of the Chester Economic Development Fund, which was created to provide loans to local businesses for capital improvements. While there were questions from the public regarding how the site would be constructed, Select Board chairman John DeBenedetti dismissed the queries saying that they would “let the technology take care of itself.”

Edit referenceOn July 10, 2013, the contract was signed and two weeks later, the town wrote a check to Kyle Rogstad — not to a company — for half of the contract.

Around that time, the point position for the town was given to Hance – in addition to her duties as assistant town clerk/treasurer and assistant to the town manager. Hance says she has not kept track of the time she has spent on the website project except to note that it has been “a lot.”

Site was ‘good to go’ but …

Emails requested by The Chester Telegraph show that with the signing of the contract there was a flurry of activity, but on the Aug. 12, 2013 “completion date,” the categories of businesses for pull down menus were still being decided. Three months later, at the Nov. 6, 2013 Select Board meeting, Rogstad announced that the site was “pretty much good to go” except the town would need to apply for a “dot gov” domain name because the domain belongs to the current host of the town website. This would mean an additional cost of $125 per year.

But more than a month later, in a Dec. 30, 2013 email, Dion asked what the town thought of the overall concept and whether he should keep it or scrap it. So after 26 weeks, the basic look and functionality of the site were still in flux.

Screenshot of link, which is in India. It should go to Click to enlarge.

Screenshot of link, which is in India. It should go to Click to enlarge.

During the next few months, the content of the current town website was copied and pasted into the new site – including many errors, both substantive and typographical. An example of this is  SAPA-TV which in both sites was linked to a “dot com” not the correct “dot org” A visitor clicking on it would go to a website in Hyderabad, India, that hawks Ninja Blenders, Bitcoin Mining, personal injury lawyers and e-cigarettes to name a few.

In May of this year, Dion and Hance began correcting information about town government functions and adding forms, regulations and annual reports. Still, many pages remain incorrect with information – like the Whiting Library’s page – more than two years out of date. Hance knows this well. “One of the biggest problems,” says Hance “is gathering info for the site. A lot of what is on the current website is not right. There was a lot of time involved in this.”

Dion, who hails from Springfield, but currently resides near Scranton, Penn., said on Monday, “There were lots of pieces, details, getting information about things in Chester, and a little bit of delay. I would say a couple of weeks between asking for information and getting it.”

Pisha said that the town has to prioritize the work. “This is not a busy issue, what with everything else,” he said.

No longer a launch date

Going forward, Dion (whose company is now called Indelible Inc. and who is moving back to Vermont) says that his work is mainly done. “We did the design, and set up the CMS (content management system) to hand off to the town to work with,” said Dion, “It was quite a bit of work, but all of the structures are there and Kyle is committed to maintaining the site for the first year” at $100 a month. Asked if he believes that the second $5,000 installment can be billed, he says, “Yes.”

Business screen shot June 2014

Business listing screenshot from June 2014. As of yesterday, it includes The Chester Telegraph. Click to enlarge.

This, however may take some interpretation. The original contract itemized charges including $1,000 for website photos. At this point however, Hance says that Town Clerk Deb Aldrich will be shooting photos for the site. The contract also included gathering of  information and photos for up to 50 businesses. To date, there are seven, including Indelible Inc. and The Chester Telegraph, which appeared suddenly Tuesday morning — although the information was submitted to test the site almost three months ago.

“David (Pisha) and I need to schedule a day,” said Hance, “to go out and visit businesses to get their information into the site. Who wouldn’t want a free listing on the town website? But they need to see a face they know.”

How will the site incorporate the real estate development portion that was a part of the reason for using Chester Development Fund monies? According to Pisha that has not yet been decided.

And so the big question. When will the new website be fully functioning and populated with Chester businesses? “Soon,” says Pisha, “but the date is uncertain,” adding that the site is a “work in progress.”

“Is it a quantum leap (compared to the current site)?” asks Pisha rhetorically. “Probably not. Will it be more useful? We hope so.”

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  1. Kathy says:

    I have to agree with Mr. Jackson’s points. The following questions entered my mind:

    1. Shouldn’t government agencies seek multiple sealed bids for a project and properly vet potential contractors before writing a check?

    2. From a legal standpoint: The Town entered into contract with an individual, not his later corporation. Should the individual decide to drag this even longer, or if the final site isn’t what was contracted, what recourse does the Town of Chester have against a man in Scranton, PA?

    3. What was wrong with the old website? Couldn’t it have been updated and upgraded by Avenet, the company experienced in municipal websites as opposed to having neophytes reinvent the wheel, so-to-speak?

    I love Chester and want to see locally owned businesses and the Town flourish, but have to question a local government website in effect providing subsidized advertising.

    4. If/when Dollar General is built, will it receive this benefit, too? Wouldn’t advertising and business promotion best be handled by a local Chamber of Commerce? Didn’t Chester once have its own Chamber of Commerce, which was merged into the Okemo Valley group? Hasn’t this, to some extent, hampered Chester’s name recognition?

    5. If/when the new website is completely finished, perhaps it will help Chester emerge from Okemo’s shadow. I realize that Okemo is a large economic driver in the area, so no disrepect is intended.

    Mind you these are only questions and I ask in order to learn more.
    Thank you.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I was at the meeting and wished I would have spoken up. I presented a blog post I made on my forum listing properties for sale and describing our town as a place for folks like me to come and start a home-based art biz. I believe strongly in our location and the amount of money driving down 103. I asked to have my listing – including photos, maps, and prices – included on the town’s web site. I paid someone to help me with the post and took the time to take the pics.

    Things are difficult when you don’t have money to get professional help and “your buddies” often don’t have the skills they think they do. The kid was the video guy for the select board meeting! David and he talked and the board thought they were getting a deal. Perhaps they should have put effort into smoothing out the old site.

    The reality is, as I mentioned that night, websites in themselves are no answer to anything. It’s like a magazine in space. Who is going to look at it and why? You need to drive folks to the site. I wanted to build the information then place a $623 ad in Paradise City Magazine where artists and craft lovers would see our post. I wanted to invite folks here for a meet and greet.

    Is my idea a good one? Who knows, but it has information at a place, drives folks to see it and invites them here to meet folks and see what we have at a specific time. It’s a plan.

    I feel we need plans that we can afford and that the people involved can complete. Perhaps hiring a town planner for $45,000 a year (someone with a bit of experience but still a little green). Town planners often get hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant monies for their communities.

    I think everyone is doing the best they can. David is just reminding me to pay my water bill! Lol. Folks are struggling and property values are going down. The whole town is for sale it seems. We need a shot in the arm that is well planned. Paying kids to do a website will do nothing. I’m sorry but it’s true. We would be much better off putting the $5k into the festival grounds. Bringing actual people to our town who will stay, eat and shop here has a much greater tangible value than anything online.

    I have a live web cam running every day in my studio every day. Yes, you can watch me work. I have an international chainsaw carving forum( 1200 hits a day)and a website. I know what web-based biz I get. Most of the money I make comes in from the folks driving by and then returning when they have time to stop. The web is a great tool but it needs much maintenance. It may be too much for our little town unless they actually have someone in-house that can do it.

    Thanks for the story. I don’t see it as mud-slinging. We all make mistakes. The trick is to learn and come back stronger and with a game winning plan. Towns all around us are getting grants for pet projects. We have for-sale signs everywhere and things for sale without signs. We are withering on the vine right now.

  3. Ron Jackson says:

    As a professional IT person myself, I can say this whole deal and process stinks. A proposal was made, voted on and approved all in one town meeting. No “out to bid” proposals, no review of the contract. The justification “wanting a business directory” is baloney – that could have easily been added to the existing town website.

    Instead, the town just writes a check to an individual with no references, no proposal and no existing portfolio. That is certainly not how the IT business normally works. If you have not delivered on a project for three months (say nothing of “over a year”) you get fired. Done and done. Not Chester. They just keep dragging along racking up further “billing” costs for something that still doesn’t exist. Complete ineptitude from the board on this one.