Monday, October 11, 2010

Roadmap to a New Website

The Town of Longmeadow Website Task Force is seeking
your input on how to improve the website and other electronic
services offered by the town.  Please click on SURVEY.

This is the message currently being displayed on the homepage at .

Because I strongly believe that our town needs effective web based communication, I have written two previous articles on technology options for a revamped town website to help provide some direction for the Town Manager's Task Force.

Cost of Technology
Cost of Technology- Part II

After I posted these articles, I have received a series of critical comments from Alan Dove, a town resident and member of Town Manager’s Website Taskforce stating that I have greatly overstated the difficulty and cost of both the development and maintenance aspects for a new town website.  Below are a few excerpts from his comments...

“As for the "Virtual Town Hall" option, it's a blatant ripoff. Nobody with a clue pays a dime for a content-management system these days. Indeed, the town's current technology service already offers professional installation and maintenance of several open source CMSs, so that should add no cost.”

”You also vastly overstate the need for training the people who will post content. A modern CMS makes posting and editing as easy as putting a comment on a blog page. Anyone who can use a computer can do it.”

“There's no technical reason a completely renovated web site should cost more than a few hundred dollars a year.”

I have recently surveyed a number of town websites in our region and found that the Amherst’s town website  provides an excellent benchmark for our town to emulate. Amherst has been commended numerous times in the recent past for their excellent delivery of web based services through their town website.

To obtain more information about the Amherst’s town website development, I contacted Kristopher Pacunas, Director of Information Technology for the Town of Amherst and asked him a series of questions. His answers shown below were quite helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it takes to create and operate an effective town government website.
  1. From the link on your website, it appears that is using a document management system developed by CivicPlus®. Is that correct?
    [Kris] Yes it is CivicPlus®
    Note: CivicPlus® develops comprehensive websites for cities and towns with over 700 completed projects servicing 26 million people. Their website is:
  2. How much did the startup phase including the design of the document management system template and required Amherst employee training cost the town?
    [Kris] We did three websites all at once (,  and  ) and the total initial cost for setup was $25,000.
  3. How long did it take to get the new website online?
    [Kris] 3 Months
  4. How many town employees are actively involved with the website? Do you have any volunteers to help maintain and update the website?
    [Kris] 25+ and yes. The granular security abilities allow us to delegate the upkeep responsibilities to many departments and staff.
  5. When major navigation changes (new webpages, menu items, forms, etc.) are needed, does CivicPlus® take care of the required html development and website implementation?
    [Kris] No and yes. CivicPlus® will walk you through every step.
  6. Do you have an estimate of how many hours (weekly/ annually) are required to maintain the Amherst website?
    [Kris] This is part of each department's daily routines but it significantly less time overall that what it would take without a web-based content management system.
  7. Is there an annual charge by CivicPlus® to host the Amherst websites and provide you with any needed technical support (e.g., webpage/form modifications)?
    [Kris] The Town of Amherst pays $6,000 annually for maintenance for the three sites and all modules. I suspect your annual cost would be significantly less. The form creation is also built-in to the content management system so we create our own forms regularly at no cost. In fact there are no additional costs over the annual maintenance which includes hosting.
  8. Any additional words of advice?
    [Kris] I’ve done a lot of research and spent a lot of time looking at every system on the market and after two years of use there is basically no comparison to CivicPlus®. Let me know if I can be of more help, good luck!
Amherst Town Government

Leisure Services and Supplemental Education
ala Longmeadow Parks/ Recreation

Amherst Police Department

As Kris mentioned in one of his answers, all three of the above websites were included with their town government website development and have a single "look and feel".  The Jones Library in Amherst has a separate website ( with a different look and feel and is connected via an "external" link on the Amherst town government website.

The Longmeadow Parks and Recreation Dept has its own website (  Perhaps the LPRD's website could be incorporated into Longmeadow's new town website and the annual maintenance savings used to fund it.

Browsing through Amherst's town website I found some features that should be considered for the new Longmeadow website.
I would recommend that Longmeadow residents visit Amherst’s town websites before they fill out the survey so that they can provide some useful information to the Town Managers Website TaskForce.


alan said...

Sorry it took so long to comment, but I don't visit this blog very often. The web site task force used several other town sites (and the site) as benchmarks, and evaluated a number of options.

Amherst did indeed pursue one rather expensive solution, and they say they're satisfied. Good for them. I don't know if they considered open source CMSs in their evaluation. We did, and liked what we saw. All of the features you list as desirable are completely straightforward with an open source CMS. There's nothing special about CivicPlus's proprietary system, except that it locks its users into a closed-source single-vendor solution. That's great for CivicPlus, but not so great for taxpayers.

Longmeadow already pays for a comprehensive communication plan from MECnet. As part of that contract, MECnet will install and maintain any of several open-source CMSs. In other words, the town is already paying for a system like this, just not using it. There's no need to go spending more money on it.

I stand by my claim that the town can renovate and modernize its web site without writing anything close to a five-figure check.

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...

At the November 1 Select Board meeting Rob Aseltine announced that the website taskforce had decided to use the WordPress "open source" CMS platform for the town's revamped website. He also expected that the new website would be at least partially operational by Jan 1 with some additional components being rolled out at a later date.

From what you have stated in previous posts... use of such platforms requires very little effort or money to create and maintain a comprehensive all-inclusive website. Given the relative lack of talent in this area within our town employee ranks, I hope that you are correct.

I will be watching for the rollout of the new website on Jan 1.