Sunday, July 29, 2012

It’s Time to Fix the Town Website

It’s now been two years since I was fired by the Longmeadow Select Board as the “Town Webmaster” after 13 years of volunteer service.  This termination spearheaded by former SB member Rob Aseltine and supported by former SB members Christine Swanson and Bobby Barkett precipitated a significant deterioration of the usefulness of the “official” town website- during the past two years.  In today’s information age Longmeadow deserves better… it’s time to fix the town website.

At the July 2 meeting earlier this month Paul Santaniello, the new SB chairman, included the town website as a meeting agenda item.  Mr. Santaniello provided some background information for new SB members (Ms. Angelides, Mr. Barowsky and Mr. Foster) and highlighted that two years ago the town website was fully functional, user friendly and updated on a regular basis. Now it is much less functional and less informative. 

Mr. Santaniello who was a member of the Select Board at the time and who voted against my termination, stated at this July 2 meeting that the firing was directly related to a blog post (Mr. Moran’s personal blog/ opinion) that was connected via a link from the town website.  Rather than simply removing the “problem” link, it was decided by the majority of the SB members to fire the “volunteer” webmaster.

Thank you Paul for setting the record straight once again.  See the short LCTV video clip below for this part of the SB meeting discussion.

After two years of various failed attempts by the SB to create an effective website, there is now a discussion to hire a college student, an intern or an outside company to resolve the day-to-day management void as well as website design deficiencies.  The current approach using a combination of town department heads and other town employees to provide timely updates has not worked very well.  Kevin Warenda, Longmeadow’s IT Director has publicly stated that he sees no role for his department in supporting the day-to-day operations and the regular updating of the website.   From my experience it is likely to cost the town at least $20-30K/year to redesign and maintain an effective website.  In the past I have written a number of Buzz blog posts related to this subject.

Watch the LCTV video below to view the full SB discussion that took place on July 2.  You will find that it was very similar to others that have taken place over the past two years on this subject with SB members not knowing how to resolve the problem.

Since my firing as town webmaster, I have continued to develop the connections between town government, schools, Storrs Library, town residents, organizations and local businesses by providing new and improved Internet resources.  These include: – A relatively new website (2010) for town residents with no business advertising.  Free website design and maintenance are offered to many town organizations including Longmeadow Historical Society, Longmeadow Newcomers Club, Longmeadow Gardeners on the Green, etc. – Connects local businesses and town residents. Business advertising and derived income from this website supports all LongmeadowBiz enterprises. - a Facebook fan page for the town of Longmeadow where people can share information, opinions and ideas.  This Facebook fan page is constantly monitored for abusive behavior, but that has not been a problem.  The towns of Enfield, CT and East Longmeadow, MA effectively used their Facebook presence for two-way communication with town residents during the storm crisis last October.  Longmeadow should have a Facebook page for such emergencies.

People who are familiar with my efforts as the Town Webmaster
(1997 - 2010) as well as my LongmeadowBiz, LLC business activities (2004 - present) know that I have always used LongmeadowBiz web resources for the benefit of our town.  Below is a LCTV video (2011) interview that provides an overview of how it all comes together.

While I have no interest in returning to my role as the “town webmaster” I would like to propose that the Select Board consider integrating the existing LongmeadowBiz Internet resources into the town website.

Below is a proposed change in appearance for the town website to allow easy navigation by town residents.
[click image to enlarge]
  • Addition of these visible links will allow town residents to get quick access to the Longmeadow Community Bulletin Board and a wealth of other timely information and services that do not currently exist (or are not easily found) on the official town website.
  • Posting of board/ committee meeting minutes and other less timely documents to should continue as currently managed by town employees.
  • This proposal separates the Select Board from the difficult and time consuming task of making individual decisions regarding whether or not links to local organizations and other external resources can be added to the town website.  These links will be reviewed and managed by LongmeadowBiz.
  • If at some future time, the Select Board decides for some reason to terminate this proposed relationship with LongmeadowBiz, it can be done very easily by simply removing the links at the top of the homepage.
  • These additional Internet resources would be provided to town residents at no additional cost to the town.
I am planning to present this proposal during the “visitor comments” period at an upcoming SB meeting and hope to receive a positive response.