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City staff defends maligned Web site

Original post made on Oct 25, 2007

Nearly three months after the City of Palo Alto's debuted its new, widely unpopular Web site, three of the site's managers maintained Wednesday that the new site is an improvement over the old one.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 25, 2007, 5:18 PM

Comments (155)

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 6:09 pm

When will council members stop defending staff when it does something outrageously wrong -- like the web site -- and instead demand accountability?

Kishimoto says, "The reason why the transition was so difficult was there was such a massive Web site." NONSENSE! Our mayor clearly knows nothing about websites. Does she think the city has more content than major corporations?

I suggest our mayor, city council members and city management check out the blog where residents first posted complaints
Web Link
and see how many problems have been/will be fixed.

Mainarick-Bolger is the one who worked on the site originally. She is one of those who selected a content management system with an obviously inferior search engine -- incredibly slow and clearly inferior to Google's in terms of finding results.

She was quoted in the PA Weekly as saying that "the new site features a chic grey background with green lettering and large, engaging photographs. It has information classified by category, rather than department, and a redesigned search engine that goes even beyond a Google-style search." Web Link

Is it a good idea to let the person who made these bad decisions -- and was surprised by the negative reactions people had to the site -- be responsible for fixing it?

Apparently Mainarick-Bolger is now blaming focus groups for the site. I was in one of the two focus groups, and the ideas we discussed -- including using Google search -- were not implemented. Perhaps the Weekly could get a list of the focus groups' suggestions.

I requested a schedule of website development and there was no time built in to the schedule for testing. I was told that "The site was reviewed by IT and department representatives."

I don't know what "review" means, as opposed to testing. Certainly IT should have tested to ensure that all the relevant software systems worked. I assume department representatives were asked if they could upload information easily. But it appears from the schedule that no usability testing at all was done of the entire site, and no time was allocated for user testing and feedback. Why wasn't this essential step included in the schedule?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the notion of crafting "a Destination Palo Alto-esque site." Obviously none of the "Executive Team" has a clue about designing and building a website -- nor about the tone it should have. Were they also the ones who decided not to use the city's seal on the site?

Can you imagine Google or Adobe or Apple or any professional organization leaving their logo off their website? Or starting their site with self-serving nonsense like this:

"Welcome to the new face of the City of Palo Alto. An energetic team of designers, technicians, programmers, and editors took on the monumental task of rebuilding our web site from the ground up.

"From hardware to software to protocols to graphics to text, the web site you're viewing has been built with you, our customers, in mind. No longer do you have to know anything about the structure of the City organization to find the information you need. Thanks to a powerful new search function and a database that serves up information whenever and wherever you look for it, you will spend less time getting to your subject of interest. . . .

"A robust search function was our users' number one request from a site re-design and we think we've delivered.

"This site is a work in progress, as it should be. You are very welcome to send comments and suggestions to us to help refine the site as we move forward. We hope you find that the new City of Palo Alto web site befits our status as a leader in high technology."

Thankfully, this embarrassing text was removed from the site. That's certainly a big improvement.

The essential purpose of a website is to represent a company or a city to the world and communicate with the stakeholders.

It's not inherently an IT problem. Yes, there must be hooks into the backend database, email system, etc. But a website is a PR/marketing/communications effort. Corporations don't have their IT departments develop websites.

The Palo Alto Weekly editorial (8/22) says, "Chief Information Officer Glenn Loo said the negative reaction was initially an emotional blow to those staff members who spent many hours working on the site."

This is unfortunate. But if the team was surprised by the negative reactions, one has to assume they have no experience in website development and should not have been entrusted with the project. And they certainly shouldn't be entrusted to fix it. Anyone with experience would not have produced the site as it is.

Stop playing nice, Mayor Kishimoto. Exercise your oversight and demand some accountability!


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Posted by Mr. Usability
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 25, 2007 at 6:27 pm

o---my---god...




This is a hapless defense of a very, very bad piece of technology. We have been taken for a ride by the contractors.




I can understand why there might have been changes to make data and graphics entry easier, but the *functionality* of the new site is just plain pathetic.




How does one explain away the fact that many, many organizations in the private and public sectors migrate their websites to new navigational interfaces, and new "looks", without losing the *one* thing that websites are supposed to deliver *first* - user functionality.




I think this thing is broken, period. We have to be crazy to keep three people updating and fixing the thing, day-in-and-day-out.




One of the things that simply boggles (in this article) is that all three staffers claim that the website is an improvement over the old site. From a user standpoint - even to this day - I am compelled to say that they couldn't be more wrong.




Currently, this website breaks almost every *basic* rule of *well-known* useability features - features that have evolved and developed over the last 15 years.




It's understandable that the city site might be seen as an improvement, internally - because (again) it's easier to work with, and navigate. However, it's simply *not* an improvement from the user point of view.




It will take months, if not a few years to patch up this spaghetti code mix of frustrating user experience.




We should write this website off, cut our losses, and start over. I'm certain that local volunteers could help staff get this thing going.




I'll say it again: we have been ripped off by the contractors who did this work. How any website contractor could point to this website with pride, as an example of work well done, is beyond imagination.




We should *demand* a redo of this site, *at no further cost to the city*, as the end deliverable is pathetic. That would be *easy* to prove in a court of law, by simply comparing the end product to any one of a thousand other redone websites that *work*.


I think there would be merit in such an action, even if our staff signed off on the project, as success or failure of a website deployment rests in the *user* experience, which is to date an exercise in restrained rage.


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Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 25, 2007 at 7:18 pm

From this article, it sounds like the goal of the whole project was to make the website easier to manage internally, which maybe they accomplished (I have no way of knowing).

As a front-end to the City, from a user perspective, it's horrific. Regardless of how easy it is for individual city departments to update, it's hard to imagine a more frustrating user experience.


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Posted by WebSavvy
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 8:56 pm

The new website is about the worst website I've ever seen. The old website was far superior. It boggles my mind that anyone would take the excuses of the designers of the new site seriously, when the overwhelming opinion of almost all users and many knowledgeable web designers unanimously proclaim the new site to be garbage.

What is stopping us from just restoring the old site, firing the designers and moving on?


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Posted by JustMyTwoCents
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 25, 2007 at 9:03 pm

Here's a simple test which everyone can do themselves (and the city should have done by an independent group):
Go to several local cities website (Menlo Park, Mountain View, Redwood City, etc.) along with PA and do the same things (surf it, search for the same specific things) and rate them in order.

I'm a Menlo Park resident who recently did some research on a particular issue and how local cities handle it, so I'm somewhat familiar with the different ones out there and PA's was - hands down - the worst. Maybe it would have been considered quite good 10 years ago, but 10 years is an eternity in "Internet time." In fact, if I was in charge, I'd be tempted to try to put back in whatever you had before, because it couldn't have been that bad compared to this one.


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Posted by Jeanne
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:03 pm

Well, the worst website in Santa Clara County used to be the county's. Dead-ends everywhere. But since Palo Alto's debuted, it's kind of a toss up. I wonder if they used the same firm...

I'm genuinely sorry to hear the staff is feeling hurt over the ngative reactions to the new site. No doubt they put a lot of time and effort into revising it and were trying to do the best they could. For that I thank them. However, they must now listen to feedback.

The resident quoted in the article was trying to renew a library book. I just tried to do the same thing and unless you can find the slightly bolder white type (in the sea of white type) in the middle of the library's home page, there's no clue how to renew a book. No tab. No colored link. No inclusion on a navigation bar. No bigger font. Not even a differentiated font. Hello! Please wake up! We need to be able to FIND things and we are CAN'T. Please listen to your users, city staff.


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Posted by enough already
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 25, 2007 at 10:39 pm

The most revealing quote in the article proves what many of us have suspected -- a city web site that was actually useful to current residents was not important; this is supposed to be a PR site to bring in outsiders:

"The decision to craft a site with a pro-Palo Alto tone was intentional, she said. The city's "Executive Team" -- which includes City Manager Frank Benest, Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison and other department heads -- were aiming for a Destination Palo Alto-esque site that would attract visitors, businesses and residents to Palo Alto."

The really sad part is that the current city website completely fails to achieve the goal of attracting visitors or businesses. See for yourself just how bad this really is: Web Link
I can't even fathom how Lisa M and her cohorts imagine that any semi-sophisticated person would be attracted to Palo Alto by the top three items on this page:

1) Parks and Facilities -- Even a highly motivated park visitor would find nothing interesting in a completely sterile list of addresses that are not linked to any other information at all! And check out the map -- if you can find the link teeny tiny print at the bottom of the long list. Note that it's a PDF made from an old Enjoy catalogue , and you can't even read the street names. Maybe this was okay in 1994 but in 2007 it seems like a really pathetic joke.

2) West Bay Opera: At least we learn something about this attraction in the text here -- and the link to a much more informative WBO website is actually visible in the first screen. Amazing.

3) Golf Course Reservations and Tee Times: Yes, this is definitely going to rake thousands of visitors who otherwise might have chosen to golf at Pebble Beach. Note that nowhere on this page is the location of the Golf Course mentioned -- or how to get there!

Bring back the city seal and get rid of the photos of vapid women window shopping or the jogger with the belly button in such poor taste. It's time to get rid of anyone defending this website and start over.


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:03 pm

They did not listen to city residents before they created the new site. They certainly will not listen to us afterwards.

Lisa Mainrack-Bolger should be fired - now. If someone in a Silicon Valley company delivered such a shoddy effort, and then fixed none of it in three months, they would be drummed out by consensus. My opinion on the future of Frank Benest just crystallized. He knows full well and approved a 'PR offensive' to say that the web site is "not so bad after all".

The new City of Palo Alto web site is a laughingstock. They have done nothing in the last three months to improve it. But they have been paid a healthy salary, and received every other Friday off.

Thing about how much better Palo Alto Online has gotten over the last few years as a web site, and a place for city conversation and information gathering to take place. Now think about how much the City site has digressed with this new site.

Fire Frank and Lisa NOW!


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Posted by Mr. Usability
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:06 pm

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Even the teeny-tiny town of Atherton's website *works* in a way that ours doesn't.

I'm not writing this to mock anyone; rather, it's a plea to ditch the current site and not take this any further, into fiasco. We are fast approaching the latter with this website, where all sympathy is replaced by laughing derision, without mercy. Don't humiliate yourselves any further. You are better than that, seriously.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:22 pm

Here's something about the search engine in the "Know Zone," which gives a clue as to the thinking that went into the website: Web Link
"Search is a crucial component of the City of Palo Alto web site. Search provides connectivity to all web site file types, News Details, Departmental PDFs, Minutes, Agendas and Reports, and Contacts for easy and quick aggregated searching of all web site documents. When a citizen, business, or municipality needs information or services that don't emerge through site navigation, search often provides the most efficient path to the desired result.

"Our Family Resources pages provide a traditional and indexed search of Palo Alto community resources. Traditional search offers many filters and lists to help you identify the type of resources you desire. Additionally Family Resources offers a categorical search based on the industry-standard InfoLine taxonomy.

"Our search engine is based on an underlying meta-data architecture based on the Dublin-Core taxonomy, enhanced by the City of Palo Alto staff librarians."

HUH? Users just want a search engine that works quickly and presents results in a logical manner.

As for parks and rec, compare Palo Alto's site: Web Link
to Mountain View's: Web Link

Notice how easy it is to find things on the Mountain View site. The page real estate is effectively used to provide menus/links to many different services.

Palo Alto wastes the major portion of its page with a photo, and when you get to Parks and Outdoors, there's a long list of headlines down the page. Web Link

The organization and navigation of the site is unbelievably bad. Clearly there was no user testing.


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Posted by NAC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Perhaps the most infuriating thing for me, is google tries to search it well - but 75% of the time ends up with dead links ending in something like this:

... QuickLinks/QuickLinks404.asp?QueryString=.....

Can someone please fix them happening from google!!!!!!!!! Please!!!!!!!! Then at least we can use an external search that can actually find things in there, rather than referencing dead URLs!!!

Surely we could at least link from old URLs to something approximating the new location for the content?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2007 at 2:16 am

Sad stuff. My sense is that some (many?) of City govt problem trace back to trying to be smart and innovative rather than "merely effective." We elect clever people, who hire clever managers, who nurture clever staff. The problem is - aside from being clever folks, we have an ordinary small city with ordinary small city issues.

Smarts are highly over-rated in our situation - we need people in City Council and management who feel good about doing a good job at implementing things that already work well elsewhere. The idea that we would "innovate" in web site search is a great example - bad enough the IT manager would come up with it (or listen to the consultant who did); the idea that higher-ups didn't say "what, are you kidding?" and squash it shows where the hubris/weakness lies.





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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2007 at 6:57 am

Pat--expecting Yoriko to stop playing nice and exercise oversight and demand some accountability will not happen for a few reasons:

1) not playing nice will lead to unhappy people and to conflict and that goes against the PA way of doing things

2) it is not about climate change

3) yoriko really does not care--if it is not about the above stated issue or being able to whine about "too much traffic", then it i snot important to her.

This website is a disaster. The city council, city management should be held accountable for another waste of money.

Does any one else out there think that we citiznes need to think twice before we give these people (via approval of bonds) any more moneyto waste?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2007 at 8:48 am

Not so fast,

You're generalizing from one very unfortunate situation - one that I personally think is a major tactical faux pax, and projecting it to the entire organization, That's just faulty logic, and doesn't play.

Also, I notice a penchant in these forums to absolutely trash individuals *in their persons*, instead of disagreeing even vehemently, as I often do) with their positions, or behaviors.

What good does it to to make the mayor into an ogre? She's a human being, so are the rest of the City Council, so is staff, and so are you.

To hear you and a few others talk, one would think that our city officials and hard-working staff are bad peopler. That's not the case, even though you might disagree with their policies.

Back to the web site. It is really a darned shame; I agree with Mr. Useability, and a few others here. I say get our money back, and stop defending this very bad website. We should cut our losses and start over.





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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:01 am

Mike--We have been let down by our city council and city leaders way to often. You can read numerous threads in this forum dealing with numerous wastes of our taxpayer dollars.
There appears to be no accountability and no leadership from the people who are suppose to manage our money and govern.
sorry you feel I am "trashing" yoriko--I am expressing my opinion based on her actions as mayor this year and her record on the city council the years prior.
While they may not be "bad people" they are not doing the job that is expected of them.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:07 am

That city managers and employees would defend this website, which has universally panned everywhere BUT at city hall, shows how debased internal standards of performance have become under Frank Benest. (Weekly readers will recall a similar defense of the disastrously designed and virtually unusable expensive Homer Bicycle tunnel by the employees who worked on it.)

It seems now that anything but rank criminality meets minimum standards at City Hall (except in the Utilities Department where even that isn't much of a bother).

We need to clear out the whole rats nest of criminals, grifters and incompetents at city hall, starting with Benest (who will continue to live in his taxpayer subsidized house either way). Enough is enough.


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Posted by Dave
a resident of University South
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:15 am

I've been clicking on the links to other city websites posted by other users in this thread.

In addition to everything else, has every one else notices how SLOW the Palo Alto pages are compared to other cities'?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:40 am

Not so fast,

I appreciate your comments, and your passion for our city. With that said, I don't know that any one person on the City Council can claim credit for the problems we face.

back to the website...

Check out Civia Software, one of our contractors
Web Link
note the annoying, clicking "feature" as one scans the links on the left side of the page. Pretty hokey; very passe, and clearly the work of someone who is not very sophisticated in front-facing website design

Now check out the City of Merced's website
Web Link

Voila! At first glance this website looks functional, but a deeper look reveals some of the same hackneyed navigation and confusion as we have seen in the Palo Alto website. It's *better* than ouu website, but not very slick, or friendly. Many of the services and links on the home page are pretty pedestrian, with questionable use as an introduction to the city.

Now Merced is definitely NOT Palo Alto, but there IS a similarity in these two sites that really does put the stamp on Civica "style" - I'm not impressed; it's amateurish...

Now, for the image consultants - "Creativeworks"
Web Link
Wow! was i surprised with this vendors website. I'm not going to get into the details of the broken links I found (one from the "services link, with their "marketing checkup" is one example), but I was taken with the sheer lack of any kind of depth this company exhibits as an imaging group. One of the promary examples they use is "Planet Sugar" - a tweaky little company that sells colored sugars. Is THIS the kind of company we are sourcing foro imaging?

Creativeworks looks even more amateurish than Civica, and I'm being kind here.

All this said, what I think is happening - or happened - around this website problem is that staffers who are not really image-conscious, from the point of view of a true marketer, were asked to go out and look for the cheapest vendor, who *appeared* to provide the most bang for the buck. Who do we blame for that? I wouldn't blame city staff, because they're always criticized for spending too much money on things.

It's unfortunate to see IT people put in the position of designing a website; that's really not the forte of IT personnel. It's even more unfortunate watching IT personnel defend design solutions.

Without getting into this any further, as a future solution I woudl suggest having someone on board who REALLY understands marketing from a high level, and who has experience bringing in the kind of vendors we need to get the job done right.




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Posted by New resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:41 am

This website is so bad that, now, when I need basic information about Palo Alto, I've resorted to using ... the phone! (After finding the relevant phone number via Google of course) As a new resident, I have to say that the website does nothing to raise my opinion of Palo Alto. But, it has provided some laughs for my friends back home in Austin, TX.

Web Link - it may not be the prettiest, but it works.


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Posted by Another good one....
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:41 am

Web Link


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Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Mike,

The correct spelling of the image consultants is Creativewerks, with an "e" instead of an "o" in "werks".

Here is the link to their web site: Web Link


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 26, 2007 at 5:40 pm

There hasn't been much discussion of this tidbit from the Weekly's story: "Loo said three people spend nearly all their time keeping the site updated and fixing problems -- an increase from previous staffing levels."

Given that with benefits it costs between $100k and 150k for each of our diligent city employees, this means that in addition to having paid $240,000 for this monstrously ill-conceived, unusable website, we're paying up to an additional $300,000 and $450,000 each year to maintain it.

Is there no end to the wasteful madness coming out of city hall?


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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2007 at 8:05 pm

The city is full of tech people - a good percentage of them probably working on web stuff.

Make it an open competetion to "fix" this site - things will turn around a lot faster than waiting on the deligent/over-worked city employees to fix it.


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Posted by CarefulReader
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2007 at 10:41 pm

From the article:
"The companies actually created two sites, the Web site accessible to the public and a sizable internal site, she said."

And later on:
"Next, the department plans to focus on fixing the city's internal Web site, Mainarick-Bolger said."

So they didn't just screw up one website, they screwed up two!

And of course that means even more time and effort (=$$$) spent on this unmitigated diaster.

Perhaps some city employees would like to spill the beans on just how screwed up their internal system is??? (Misery loves company, after all).

Hard to imagine no one is being held responsible for this (only in PA, I guess).


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2007 at 4:07 am

We have always preferred using the phone book, over looking something up on a computer.

We have done this in Palo Alto for over 50 years without any problems.

The city employees are much more friendlier and helpful than a web site.

Call me old fashioned, I don't care.

It would seem like the internal web site would be more important to running the city, and their primary concern.


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Posted by karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:15 am

I notice they still don't have the detailed information about the heritage trees that the old web site used to have, and I reported this as missing content right after this disaster of a web site became public. So much for their blathering about how easy it is to add content.


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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 27, 2007 at 6:40 am

Thanks fr the link. In the first sentence, they misspell "principals" and later on in their self-hype they misuse "exmplary" but what the heck. It's a very snappy logo ad whatnot, and great credentials, but what does all their advertising experience have to do with WEB DESIGN????? Did anyone ever question them about whatthey actually DID for their many clients? Because it looks like mostly they did ads. While I can see why City Hall thought it needed some good pr (;o)), I thought the fee was for a website.

The group advertises as follows:

"Creativewerks is agile and flexible, able to respond quickly to our client's needs on any level."

Also:

"ut, most importantly, Creativewerks is not an ever-changing corporation of account managers running interference for invisible writers and art directors. We answer the phones ourselves; we supervise and do the work ourselves; we oversee the production ourselves; we're responsible for the outcome."

Since they proudly proclaim that they are responsible for the fiasco tat was the outcome, why in the world has the City not said one single peep about having the company fix it FOR FREE, instead of now employing people at a higher annual combined salary than the original cost to fix it? Unless . . they did exactly as requested and some incompetent at City Hall decided to micromanage them, but now isn't fessing up?

And the City is seriously asking for more bond money. What a joke.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 9:16 am

The creative consultants (design guys) worked off the mission the City gave them - which was a brochure-type look, meant to attract outsiders vs serve citizens. They did an ok job - it looks 50x fancier than any city web site I've ever seen. You look at their portfolio, that's what they do for corporates too.

The folks who set the mission, approved the creative brief, signed off on the prototypes, and released the site - those are the way-off-base people we should point at. I assume that's pretty high up in the City govt (Manager?).

They wanted pretty and didn't take care of functional - pretty much the opposite of the vast majority of city web sites. We tried to be different and screwed it up; can't we just try to be as good as other towns for a change? Fill the potholes; fix the storm drains; cut the headcount; and just a basic website with easy access to lots of stuff.


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Posted by Web Worker
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 27, 2007 at 9:53 am

I agree with the person who suggested having a city-wide contest. The site is chock full of spelling and grammatical errors, broken links, and is difficult to navigate. I also find it amusing that there is no link to "contact the Webmaster."

When you design a Web site you need to make it so people can find what they're looking for with as few clicks as possible. It also needs to be "best viewable" in ANY browser, not just IE, which isn't supported on MacOS, UNIX, or Linux.


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Posted by Henry W
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 10:32 am

Not so fast needs to learn the names of other members of the city council who might be relevant to the web debacle. The outgoing members should be more outspoken about the city manager's failures. They won't have to live with his reaction for the next few years.
Time for Mr. Morton to do something useful and reduce some of the blather.
Council member Kleinberg never misses an opportunity to praise herself and her family for their connections to Google. Here's her opportunity to do something useful.
Lets hear a little straight talk from them, not just self praise. And where is Dena Mossar on this issue?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2007 at 10:42 am

a few things:

Form is supposed to follow function in website design.This project was *outsourced* to two contractors *Creativewerks AND Civica*, who *both* claim experience. Based on the end result, the *contractors* failed, helped along by a staffing group that was ignorant of the marketing and website variables that the *contractors* are supposed to have known about.

Ultimately, the buck has to stop somewhere, and certainly there was a disconnect at some level in city hall - in addition to an overreaching effort to make the website more than what it had been.

Were these groups (Civica and Creativeverks) even talking to one another? It doesn't appear that they coordinated their efforts. *Some* of the coordination would normally come from project managers within city hall, but the rest should have come from cooperative efforts between the two vendors; the latter appear to have been missing in action, relative to coordinating their joint efforts to make this project (for which they were both highly paid) work.

We're all upset with this website; even the staff is upset. What's unfortunate is that the city went for a 'look' that tried to supercede the norm, in terms of what one sees on most municipal websites. What's even more unfortunate is that the city simply doesn't have the marketing skill set to distinguish between the fine variables that determine whether an image represents what one hopes to project, or (more unfortunately) completely misrepresents what the intended impact is supposed to be. The tragedy here is that everyone meant well.

That aside, again, where were the contractors in all this? At this point, I am almost convinced that Civica was derelict in carrying out its responsibility to the city. There is *no way* that Civica could have tested things like the search engine and its (probably legacy) content management system for optimal functionality vs. other choices, like Google (for search). My suspicion is that Civica had in-house legacy code that they had created for other projects, and just popped it in. This is a common practice.

Further, what about *user testing*? Where was Civica in all this? Looks like they were MIA.

Again, we're talking about two *supposedly experienced* contractors who have coorinated with other outside contractors in the past. Why didn't that happen?

What's especially bothersome is that we paid more to Creativewerks than we did to Civica, with the latter holding ultimate responsibility for the *optimal functionality* of the website, and *both* vendors holding responsibility for a *satisfactory* end project.

Where are the contractors in all this? MIA, even after the fact.

Imaging and branding contractors are nototiously pricey, and usually have *no* metric attached to the *results* of their work, in terms of whether the imaging spend was directly responsible for an increase in sales, customer loyalty, etc. etc. Most companies employ these groups out of habit, with no clue about whether the spend was worth it or not.

Creativeverks gets to walk away and point to how "cool" their completely out-of-place graphic representations are (for a city website). Had Creativeverks vetted their imaging in a live test, with community input *before* this site went live, they would have gotten feedback very similar to what was received by city staff.

Some of the branding pressure for this website probablby came from certain local citizens, and possibly others who have commercial or development interests in town (possibly one group, speaking through the other). I would bet hard cash on this.

In all, this has been a bad experience for all concerned. As for responsibility, the back shuold stop somewhere at city hall AND at the foot of BOTH contractors. Some negotiation about fixing this thing is in order, *at no additional cost* to the city.

Our employees should not have to do anything but feed necessary content into the system (which they would be doing, in either case), but Creativeverks, and aspecially Civica, need to make good on their contract. They have yet to do this, in terms of a satisfactory end product, delivered and appropriately functional.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2007 at 11:55 am

Henry W--you are correct that the entire city council needs to share the blame for this debacle and others.
Clearly our city council, as a body, is not prepared to take responsibility for any problems or failures in this city.
Morton does not see the fact that few of the auditors recommendations were followed is a problem. Mossar thinks her great accomplishment was the Homer Avenue tunnel.
Clearly there is a disconnect between the city council view of things and how ordinary citizens (who are not part of the city hall good old boy network) see things. Maybe the council's rose-colored glasses should be removed


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 1:47 pm

We can blame the contractors if we like, and maybe they deserve some blame. But that's kind of like blaming an imcompetent employee for a project gone bad - who hired the guy, who managed him, who signed off on his project plan, who approved his deliverables and test results, who ok'ed the work for general release? It was the managers, at a minimum the IT manager and probably higher up too. Those are the folks who screwed up.

Just focusing on search - who came up with the terrible search construct (sort by category, not by relevance or importance or frequency of access)? Even if it were the contractor, the project manager bought off on it. Contractors have dumb ideas all the time; but the manager needs to know how to say "no" and not just accept whatever blarney they are pitching.

The fish rots from the head down - who's in charge here?



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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Terry, I know that it's sometimes fun to dump on city staff. Sometimes, they make mistakes. You do too; and so do I.

This is more about having employees (core IT personnel, who don't really understand the vagaries of website design and branding) put in charge of this project.

Palo Alto doesn't have vthis kind of expertise at city hall, and THAT's why the project was outsourced.

The *contractors* are mmostly liable for this shoddy piece of work. You're letting your preference for trashing city hall get the best of your judgment.

Certainly, there is some city culpability.

What I would really like to know more about is which commercial or merchant group (maybe the BID?) was pushing for the site re-design, as we see it. More digging is required.

IN the meantime, I suggest a serious letter from our attorney, threatening legal action based on the absolute failure of the delivered product.


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Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 27, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Mike,

You say, "What's especially bothersome is that we paid more to Creativewerks than we did to Civica ..."

Actually, the Civica contract was for $132,695, but the Creativewerks contract was for $92,400, or less than 70% of the Civica contract amount.

See City staff report CMR:102:06 (January 23, 2006) at Web Link

So we didn't pay more to Creativewekrs than we did to Civica.

We paid more to Civica than we paid to Creativewerks.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Mike, I don't quite get your view. If the city staff was not equipped to manage the contractors or evaluate the deliverable, they probably shouldn't have undertaken the project. Or perhaps hired an independent consultant to manage the contractors.

But if all of us can look at the resulting site and see so many problems, why can't city staff? No one is complaining about the underlying source code, databases, server environment etc. - we are complaining that the site is hard to navigate, is missing tons of content, looks funny, and that the search function is really bad. It doesn't take highly specialized expertise to evaluate that.

Maybe the contractors did shoddy work; but somebody accepted that shoddy work and paid the invoices. And somebody high up (I hope anyway) reviewed the site before release and gave it a thumbs up for release. Let's start with them.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 4:38 pm

> But if all of us can look at the resulting site and see
> so many problems, why can't city staff?

This is not really a fair question. Perhaps a more fair question would be: "what made city hall believe that it could manage this project if it didn't have any experience in developing enterprise web-sites?

What is missing from the public view at this point is a good management review of the process. It's obvious that the people involved thought that they could outsource the project. The Civica decision probably wasn't that bad, but the decision to spend a lot of money on a "logo consultant" probably wasn't such a good idea. It seems clear that someone had an idea that what was needed was some sort of "icon", but no idea as to what kind of services were to be delivered which would help to focus design decsions on the web-site interface, and navigation techniques.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 4:54 pm

M-M, why is it "not a fair question" why City staff did not see the flaws in what they delivered and did not stop the project prior to release? I believe it is one of the key questions.

I think I disagree with your view about why did they think they could do this? EVERY CITY DOES THIS. This thread shows lots of examples of cities that have perfectly good web sites. While it is not easy (it is not a hacker's weekend project), it is well within the grasp of many cities. Again, the complaints aren't about technical issues - they are about basic functionality, content, and purpose. These are not deep technical issues.

When an org screws up basic things, we should look for a root cause. Why did they decide on a glitzy site? Why the "innovative" search function? Why release with huge content gaps? It seems of a piece with other things - for instance, why do we not follow auditor recommendations and why do we have a Mayor who pursues green photos ops vs. basic city services.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Terry, I agree with you 100%. The people who hired the consultants, wrote the contracts, managed the process, signed off on deliverables, wrote the checks, are the ones who should be held accountable. If the website project was handed off to inexperienced people, that's the fault of management. Glenn Loo says he takes responsibility for the site.

Two months ago, I asked council members the following questions:

- What are you going to do about the site and what steps are you taking to hold city staff -- and yourselves -- responsible?

- What have you learned from this?

- What processes will be changed?

You won't be surprised to hear that I didn't get any replies.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:30 pm

> why is it "not a fair question" why City staff did not
> see the flaws in what they delivered and did not stop the
> project prior to release?

One has to understand flaws in order to recognize them.

> Again, the complaints aren't about technical issues - they are
> about basic functionality, content, and purpose.

Agreed. The basic flaw in the process is a lack of vision as to what this city's e-government service delivery model should provide. Once this service delivery model has been developed, then the web-site design could commence.

> These are not deep technical issues.

At some level, yes However, the basic decision of "make vs buy" always involves a deep inter-relationship between project management and technical issues.

> When an org screws up basic things, we should look for a root cause.

Yes.

> Why did they decide on a glitzy site?

Why indeed?

> Why release with huge content gaps?

This is a good question. The city has not provided an inventory of material which will appear on the site. This is one of the areas where a good specification would have been useful to the consultants, the site developers and the public. A simple schedule of content addition would have been the professional thing to do on the part of the site managers.

> why do we not follow auditor recommendations

Better question for the thread on the Auditor.

> why do we have a Mayor who pursues green
> photos ops vs. basic city services.

The people in charge of developing the web-site are in a different "loop" than the unelected Mayor. But yes, the city manager should have been involved in reviewing/approving the key decisions of this project.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:39 pm

M&M - I'm still not sure why, if we as users can see the flaws, that the project managers and city managers could not see them as well. I'm not sure a "vision of the city's e-government delivery model" is really required - I don't have that, but I know the search function's results are pretty much unusable.

Sure organizations can get myopic, but if there is really such bad myopia, we need to shake up the org somewhere at the top to re-establish proper perspective. My view is that if they had simply tried to do what others do and improve incrementally on what they had, they'd have done fine for much less money, and we'd have a usable web site and money in the bank.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:41 pm

Pat, that is sad to hear. While web sites are chump change in the scheme of city government, this is unfortunately indicative of some of our city's problems. If we just focused on blocking & tackling, versus try to be "innovative" we have a better city on a smaller budget.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 5:56 pm

> we as users can see the flaws, that the project managers
> and city managers could not see them as well.

Watch enough cop shows and you will see a lot of kids arrested for heinous crimes and their parents claim that: "my boy is a good boy". As to the point about the web-site managers not seeing the flaws .. incompetence, pride of ownership, totally different point of view about the purpose of a municipal web-site .. take your pick from this short list of reasons.

It is clear that the managers of this project did not really understand who the end users were (meaning the public), and what the end users wanted in a web-site. I understand that there was at least one focus group held. Videos were taken of the session. If anyone were really interested in understanding what went wrong, it would pay to review the videos and find out what those selected to represent the public said they wanted in a web-site.

> "vision of the city's e-government delivery model"

If there were a vision of a 7/24/365 virtual office where all city business that absolutely does not require the person to be present, then that web-site would likely be very different than one that is intended to be an icon for something like "destination Palo Alto".


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 6:01 pm

> My view is that if they had simply tried to do what others
> do and improve incrementally on what they had, they'd
> have done fine for much less money, and we'd have a
> usable web site and money in the bank.

This is certainly one approach. There are many Civica modules which can be purchased in the future which will increase the functionality for very little cost. Since there does not seem to be a schedule for future web-site development, or any commitment to e-government, this is still an open question.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 6:11 pm

M&M -

I agree, if they had that 7/24/365 vision, things would be different - probably just as bad, but different. The idea that we need a "vision" is part of the problem - we just need a web site with info on it. And maybe the ability to pay city bills. Kind of like what we had. Kind of like most other small cities have. It isn't complicated unless we make it complicated, which obviously, we did.

If they couldn't see the problem - that's great testimony to why we need serious change. Everyone sees them now.

Let's face it - if they just tossed the search function and put in something that ranked by relevance or importance, and got more info up on it, a lot of the problems would go away. Then we'd just have to deal with who thought we needed a glossy brochure for a web site.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 6:22 pm


> The idea that we need a "vision" is part of the
> problem - we just need a web site with info on it.

It is clear that they don't have a vision, so ..

> .. if they just tossed the search function
> and put in something that ranked by relevance or importance,
> and got more info up on it, a lot of the problems would
> go away

Depends on how the indexing is done. Good search engines use a fully-inverted index (meaning that each word in a file is indexed in some fashion). The availability of "content" will always trump searching, unless the searching is very badly designed.


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Posted by Smokey
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Smokey is a registered user.

All these comments are kind of interesting, but the fact still remains that the new website simply does not work! They are blocking Google or Yahoo crawlers from accessing the site. Just another example of non-open government in action. WHenever I do a search, the PA wed site captures the search and ineptly turns it into an internal search, which produces a "no results found". It is clear that we are stuck with this inept and expensive non-solution from our city government.

Smokey...


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Posted by Smokey
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Smokey is a registered user.

All these comments are kind of interesting, but the fact still remains that the new website simply does not work! They are blocking Google or Yahoo crawlers from accessing the site. Just another example of non-open government in action. WHenever I do a search, the PA wed site captures the search and ineptly turns it into an internal search, which produces a "no results found". It is clear that we are stuck with this inept and expensive non-solution from our city government.

Smokey...


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Smoke, I agree with you that the website is bad.

But you can search it via Google (and I generally do). There are still problems - many links to the old site are still around (and just serve up blank pages), and the new site's pages have terrible rankings. Presumably all rankings were lost when they switched over the sites. But it is generally more useful than the site's own search function.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 7:46 pm

> WHenever I do a search, the PA wed site captures
> the search and ineptly turns it into an internal search,
> which produces a "no results found".

While one might argue that this is a search-engine problem, it is more likely a lack-of-content problem.

> They are blocking Google or Yahoo crawlers from accessing the site.

This is a point which the IT people should have explained at/before release of the site. There might be some issue with Civica proprietary content management not being readable by Google/Yahoo crawlers. There are a number of other California cities using Civica. So, even if the PA IT people are not willing to explain this matter with Palo Altans, the IT departments in other cities might be more open to explaining what the underlying problem is.

> It is clear that we are stuck with this inept and expensive
> non-solution from our city government.

This is a matter that the Council can deal with if they wanted to. Has this question been put before the people running for council during the council forums held about town?


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Posted by Cant find
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 27, 2007 at 9:01 pm

The solution I have suggested is to offer to buy the structure of their web site from Mountain View (or any other good city site) without their content, of course.
Then we can make superficial changes of fonts and pictures, and such.
It is humiliating for the staff to have to admit this very visible failure, but there is no fixing this awful unpleasant site and no hiding the problem. I find it so unpleasant, I don't go to it for the purposes that were my habit for years.
It is so illogical, it forces you to Search for things that should be in some obvious order. It is as though all of your clothing was tossed together into a closet and when you want a pair of socks you have to use a high tech search engine to find them.
It is sad to waste so much money but until the failure is acknowledged it can't be fixed.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Herb,

Thanks for your correction re: the respective amounts paid to each vendor. This makes Civica's work even more disappointing. Even the lesser amount paid to Creativeverks is far more than our city needs to spend for imaging.

From what I'm reading above, it seems that some are on a campaign to skewer management for othis website. I think that's misguided.

Yes,, there *was* a screw up, but we should not forget that there has been a lot of pressure from the community to update the website.

I think intentions were good, but that no one manager at city hall had the expertise in contracting out or project managing an enterprise website (someone suggested this, above).

What continues to escape me is how Civica and Creativeverks even *let* the site get signed off. Are they consultants and contractors, or not? I have worked with *many* website contractors and imaging consultants, and have yet to have work with one that would not have told me that my/their end product was dysfunctional in beta - and would *never* have let *any* project manager (of the contracting entity) sign off on a project unless ot was tested and as optimal as possible. This was *clearly* not the case. And, if it was, we were dealing with two incompetent, or dishonest, vendors. This may sound harsh, but there is *no excuse* for this end product, from the contracting perspective.

From the city side, the culpability is overreaching, relative to the skill sets held by those in charge of the project. That was a mistake, but those assugned to manage the project were *not* taken care of by the contractors.

To be clear, I'm not making staff the victim in this scenario. There was some management ignorance at play (with the hope that there is a lesson learned), but I offer no quarter to the contractors, who shuold have known better than to let this project go as "finished", when it clearly was not.

Going back to the imaging consultant, there is something fishy about that part of the project. Who (on the outside) was staff listening to? I know, for a fact, that there are some development and commercial interests that get to bend the city's ear on stuff like this, more than most.Those persons have, I believe, have inordinate influence about decisions that have to do with the "look" of our city's front-facing efforts. Were some of these people involved? I'll bet they were. Would they admit it? Never.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 9:55 pm

> it seems that some are on a campaign to skewer management for
> othis websit

Management initiated the project; management interviewed the consultants; management selected the contractors; management signed the contracts; management reviewed the consultants' work; management signed off on the intermediate results; management signed off on the final consultant/contractor work product; management reviewed their own people's work; management decided to put the final work product on-line without a back-out strategy.

Who else was making decisions about this project?


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2007 at 10:03 pm

> This may sound harsh, but there is *no excuse* for
> this end product, from the contracting perspective.

Read the contracts. The contractors/consultants are not responsible for the end product, other than to deliver certain work product.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2007 at 11:30 pm

Mike, hard to see what your angle is. Our staff is just pawns of development interests and contractors? We're in big trouble then, since we can't control those two things.

But since other cities, at least in terms of web sites, seem to do better; and since other cities have developers and use contractors; my hope and expectation is that in fact city management is at fault.

Personally I'm not trying to skewer the staff IT guys - this project was frankly too big, visible, and citizen-facing to just be left to the IT guys. If senior management wasn't involved in setting the priorities, following the process, and reviewing the results - they were remiss. If they were and they let it happen - they were remiss. Either way, somebody at city hall needs to have "The Buck Stops Here" sitting on their desk. Don't you agree?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2007 at 10:32 am

While we are all justifiably complaining about this website, we're forgetting what a website COULD do and what probably was not even been considered in the plan.

Instead of just being an information portal, what if we could schedule rooms, fill out and submit forms, pay fees, track transactions, etc.? Check out Web Link

These services would also make our government more efficient, benefit city employees (how many are currently involved in room scheduling?) and even allow for some staff reduction -- though that seems to be unthinkable to our council.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 11:12 am

> These services would also make our government more efficient,
> benefit city employees (how many are currently involved in
> room scheduling?) and even allow for some staff
> reduction -- though that seems to be unthinkable to our council

This is e-Government.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 11:13 am

some further points:

1) Pat is correct: there was an opportunity to leverage the website, in ways that would make interface with government a lot more functional.

Where was Civica in all this? Website consultants are *not* just dumb work agents. They are *supposed* to deliver archtectual scenarios, and *ideas*.


2) Management-Matters wants "blood". Yes, managment *does* matter, but anyone who has ever *been* a manager knows how silly some of these "off-with-their-heads" cries seem.

There's no doubt a mistake was made, but put within the context of all the things that get done *right* in Palo Alto, it's not enough to be calling for dismissals.

What amuses me is that there *is* a lot done right done in Palo Alto; things run pretty smoothly here. There *is* room for improvement, but there's no reason that current management can't - or should not - be enabled to make those improvements.

(To continue harping on this theme) - - someone, somehow, got the ear of our city's management about "prettying up" our town via the website. If that's the case - and I think it is (in fact, I think I know who the players are) - I hope our city will learn from this mess that certain groups of citizens best be kept out of the loop when it comes to "ideas" that revolve around our city's need to "make itself more attractive". This latter group is rather clueless, and it will be surprising to me if our city's management (which is competent, overall) continues to heed their advice on any matter that impacts something as crucial as the primary tool for access to government (our city's website).

There's nothing wrong with wanting to make Palo Alto "more attractive". That's a good idea, no matter the modalities used. However, before move on suggestions, it's a good idea to get people iinvolved who are *capable* of doing that, instead of soliciting ideas (including suggestions for which vendors we should use) mostly from people who have no real experience in branding, or marketing, at the scale necessary to make effective decisions, or recommendations.

Last, there is *no way* that any competent website or imaging contractor should have let their client sign off on this final product. I would like to ask the principals of those companies - point blank - to USE the end product that they were paid for, and compare it to their other projects. I would be interested in their honest opinions.




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Posted by Cant find
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 28, 2007 at 11:22 am

The current City Council agenda is relevant to Pat's intelligent comments. BTW, don't ask how much searching I had to do to find the agenda. If the intention of the staff was to keep people from finding out what is going on, they have succeeded.
From the Oct. 29 Agenda:
9. Approval of a Software System Integration Services Contract with
Axon Solutions, Inc. in the Amount of $6,292,073 for the SAP Software
Upgrade and Implementation of SAP Industry-Specific Solution for
Utilities and Adoption of a Budget Amendment Ordinance in the
Amount of $4,000,000 to Increase Appropriation to Capital
Improvement Project TE-07006, SAP Continuous Improvement
Project
CMR: 386:07

10. Approval of a Three Year Maintenance Contract with Accela, Inc. in the
Amount of $316,819 to Provide Web-Based Permitting Application and
Maintenance Service
CMR: 379:07



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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 11:51 am

> Management-Matters wants "blood". Yes, managment
> *does* matter, but anyone who has ever
> *been* a manager knows how silly some of
> these "off-with-their-heads" cries seem.

Managers in the real world get booted when they fail. Anyone who had ever "*been*" a manager would know that.

> Where was Civica in all this? Website consultants are
> *not* just dumb work agents. They are *supposed* to
> deliver archtectual scenarios, and *ideas*.

Read the contract. Civica had a specific role, which was to provide the "back-end" (data management) capabilities for the web-site. The dollar-amount of the Civica contract was not very large, so it's difficult to believe they wanted to become involved in political decisions associated with this web-site.

> someone, somehow, got the ear of our city's management
> about "prettying up" our town via the website

This seems obvious from the hiring of a "logo consultant".


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:16 pm

> Last, there is *no way* that any competent website or
> imaging contractor should have let their client sign off
> on this final product.

The imaging consultant's web-site lists Palo Alto as a client. Wonder why he would do that?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm

MM, Yes, one does wonder, doesn't one? This proves my point about the absolute *lack* of final diligence and *successful execution* of a project. Apparantly, yuo have never managed a large-scale outsourcing project, or you wouldn't be posting opinions that would be laughed out of any mid-to-high-level project management scenario. Seriously, what's yuor *experience* in these matters?

We all know that you're upset with the website (so am I), but your grasp of the way process works in these scernarios is less than impressive.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:30 pm

MM, so, just how well is data managed in the final, end product?

From your comments, it appears that you would have walked away a happy camper if you were Civica's project lead - right. Your comments appear absolutely to support that contention.

How about it? Would you have let your client sign off on the project under question, as it stands?

I'm really anxious to hear your answer - and please don't try to squirrel out by saying that there wasn't a "political component" in the contract. We're talking about *pure functionality* here, in the way that data is managed, accessed, transparantly (or not) entered, and a host of other components that $100K+ (for legacy modules, mind you) should have been way MORE than enough to pay for.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:40 pm

> yuo have never managed a large-scale outsourcing project,
> or you wouldn't be posting opinions that would be laughed
> out of any mid-to-high-level project management scenario.

This was not a "large outsourcing project". $225K is 2.5 FTEs at the Palo Alto wage scale.

However, if you think that you are correct in your assessments, why are you giving the Palo Alto government people a pass?

Seriously, what's yuor *experience* in these matters?

You show me yours and I'll show you mine.

BTW -- your abilities to attack people who differ with you are quite impressive.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:43 pm

> it appears that you would have walked away a happy camper
> if you were Civica's project lead

Actually, I don't know the implementation details of this project. There are some disturbing gaps in the implementation time line which calls for a review of the project.

However, the Civica part focuses heavily on their delivery pre-written software, and helping to interface to those "modules" (which are described on their web-site, and also in the contract).


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 12:54 pm

That's what I thought you would say. Minus those implementation details, how could any competent project lead (on the contractor's end) walk away from this project with satisfaction?

I won't let you squirrel out of this. Answer, please:

Would you, or would you not, have walked away - even following a senior-level sign-off - from this project without alerting your client to serious problems in transparent access to data - no matter the implementation details.

If you say no, then my point about vendor responsibility is made.

If you say yes, then my point about Civica's incompetence is made.

Your choice...


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:03 pm

MM, incidentally - I am not giving management a pass. This was a mistake that came from ignorance, not incompetence. The peoplep involved have learned a few things (more than that, I'll wager). What I'm NOT doing is calling for management heads to roll, like most people on this thread, who want to project every mistake made on Hamilton Street as an example that the entirelty of management is incompetent.

That argument is itself, incompetent - and shows a lack of sensitivity to the realities of any large institution.

btw, $240K is not a piece of chump change. I've managed projects 50 times larger than that, but so what. Given the volume set of data, and the necessary transparance demanded (relative to access of that data), these project contractors *failed* to deliver.

Where's *their* accontability? ( I would also hope that there is some private accounatability within city hall, where certain outside influences that have been pressing for their version of "city beautification" will be listened to with a lot more reservation, from now on)


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Posted by Whats it about
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Mike what do you know about these two new items? Sounds like 10Million dollars or am I reading it wrong.
9. Approval of a Software System Integration Services Contract with Axon Solutions, Inc. in the Amount of $6,292,073 for the SAP Software Upgrade and Implementation of SAP Industry-Specific Solution for Utilities and Adoption of a Budget Amendment Ordinance in the Amount of $4,000,000 to Increase Appropriation to Capital Improvement Project TE-07006, SAP Continuous Improvement Project
CMR: 386:07

10. Approval of a Three Year Maintenance Contract with Accela, Inc. in the Amount of $316,819 to Provide Web-Based Permitting Application and Maintenance Service
CMR: 379:07


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:24 pm

> Would you, or would you not, have walked away - even following a
> senior-level sign-off - from this project without alerting your
> client to serious problems in transparent access to data - no
> matter the implementation details.

Read the contract. The Civica people did not have any responsibility on the outside design. The city made few requirements on them, other than a few boiler-plate sort of things.

If all of the source code, object code and other tools required by the contract in a timely fashion, working as advertised, and all efforts made to accommodate reasonable additional requests by the city people that did not endanger the terms of the contract, then the project lead was right to sign off on his portion of the work.

As to the image consult--he (his firm) was required to provide three options (if memory serves). There is no language in the contract requiring him to provide the city with an "award winning" web-site. Provided that the consultant met his dates, with prototypes that were not reject out-of-hand by the city, then his part of the contract was mostly fulfilled. The image consultant had a few other tasks, such as running the focus group and some other administrative sorts of tasks.

Read the contract.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:30 pm

> Given the volume set of data, and the necessary transparance
> demanded (relative to access of that data), these project
> contractors *failed* to deliver.

Read the contract. Your view is not upheld by the terms of the agreement between the parties.

There is one reference to the number of files in the contract, but only in a bit of "background on the site. There is no document inventory, or even a hint of the total number of documents which the site should hold. There is no discussion about anything that would support claims that the contractors failed to deliver, since the city accepted their work.

But even if you were right, why did the city accept the work? Another example of their "competence" that you keep vouching for?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:35 pm

I have managed many outsourced projects, large and small, including corporate website development. If I had signed off on the city's website, I'd be looking for another job. There are incompetent contractors out there. But it's up to the inside manager to (1) hire competent companies and (2) have a schedule that calls for lots of check-points that must be signed off before payments are made. If the consultant messes up, you dump him and hire someone else.

The city staff who dealt with the consultants -- and their managers -- either weren't paying attention or didn't have the experience to know that what was being delivered was way off the mark. I didn't see any testing and feedback cycles in the schedule.

Another possibility is that the consultants did what they were told – against their better judgment. I guess we'll never know.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2007 at 1:39 pm

Mike, I still don't get what your point is. It is not clear to me if the contractors did what was asked of them or not - though it appears more that they did. Your blustering about whether the contractor should have "walked away" or not seems like a diversion. For all we know, the contractors DID raise objections, and were told it was all ok, their work was great - certainly no one on the City staff is blaming the contractors now, they are all saying everything is more or less as they planned it!

I am not, nor do I see others, saying that "heads should roll" over this issue; but it seems more that it is part of a pattern of poor performance. I don't know the IT guys on the city staff, but when something this visible goes this badly, I tend to think the problems are closer to the top - disengaged management, poor communication, and lack of execution focus. For instance, if the IT guys were "ignorent" as you say - management should have figured that out and gotten help.

Mike, you may be an outsourcing genius for all I know - but it doesn't take a genius to see that there are problems at city hall.



But

If management


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Terry, My point is that there is *shared* culpability for the bad website. That culpability is *shared* by the following:

1) City Hall, in that individual staffers assigned to manage this project apparently did not have the entire bevy of skills necessary to manage a project like this. So, that's a management failure. Is it sufficient failure to see heads roll? I say no - plainly differing with the mob mentality generated on this thread.

MM keeps avoiding the elephant in the room - trying to skate away from the responsibility that contractors have in successful deployments - assuming they're first-rate contractors, who keep their client's post-project interests in play, through to successful deployments. It's readily apparent that this site wasn't tested. Even if city staff didn't demand that, what *competent* contractor would have walked away without that?

I have deep questions and reservations about the latter.

2) Civica and Creativeverks. **no way** does a website or imaging contractor let a client twist in the wind on an inadequate deployment,,, (both knew about the other's work - as this was a *complete* redo of the site). There's no way around this.

3) Certain outside influences that have worked their way inside City Hall, as the last word on what our city needs to do to attract vistors and "brand" itself.

Bottom line: the website sucks, mistakes were made.

So, now we move on to the next step - hopefully having learned a few lessons.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2007 at 2:37 pm

> The decision to craft a site with a pro-Palo Alto tone was
> intentional, she said. The city's "Executive Team" -- which
> includes City Manager Frank Benest, Assistant City Manager
> Emily Harrison and other department heads -- were aiming for
> a Destination Palo Alto-esque site that would attract visitors,
> businesses and residents to Palo Alto.

Just in case anyone missed this bit of information from the article.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Mike: just wondering what you think would be justification for "heads to roll," if mismanagement and wasting taxpayers' money is not. What would be appropriate action to take regarding the folks responsible for the website?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 4:14 pm

MM, you're statig the obvious. So? In light of the vernacular requirements of contractors to partner with their clients, how does this change anything. You keep squirreling away from my prior questions.

Pat, I'm not the one(s) who hired the City Manager. That said, and given the *severe* constraints that have evolved in this city (and neighboring city's) - relative to the way things were, say, 10 years ago - this city's management has done an overall good job.

Here's a tip: things are going to become even MORE challenging for policy makers and city managers here, and elsewhere in California.

Policy makers are going to have to dig deep down and realize that firing mostly competent individuals is not going to make the big challenges go away. In fact, losing the embedded knowledge of long-time staffers would probably do more harm, than good.

The only justification I see for firing is absolutey egregious incompetence, that has been shown as a *consistent* pattern of behavior.

Please keep in mind that most of the posters here are of the ilk that criticizes government officials at the slightest drop of a hat.

If I were to create a "crisis gauge" that was normalized relative to the absolute harm done by certain faux pax (like the website) in Palo Alto, compared to what a *real* crisis (caused by egregious, consistent incompetence) is, then this website crisis would show about a "6" on a scale of 10. That's my opinion.

There is a core of persons here who don't like what any public official says or does about infrastructure (roads, libraries, police buildings, etc. etc.) So, their radar is up for any little mistake, which distorts their view of the whole.

What we need to do in this city is keep figuringn out how to muddle through these hard times, and the hard times (relative to times past) ahead. I think we're muddling through successfully, which is a messy business.

I wouldn't even fire someone in the private sector for what happened with the website, *unless* it was shown that there was gross incompetence and willful resistance to learning from mistakes made. That isn't the case here.

Stealing; consistent patterns of egregiously incompetent behavior; these are the things that warrant dismissal.

I feel for Mr. Benest, because he is serving at the whim of policy makers, many of whom did not hire him. Let's face it, not one of those policy makers is an expert in city management. So far, the Council's actions have exhibited restraint and wisdom in this regard.

I say we're doing OK, but we have challenges ahead (including the website) that will require cool heads, with a realization that there are variables present in City government that will make it exceedingly difficult to govern this municipality, down the road. We need good people; we have good people; it's best not to make them gun shy by castigating for every little mistake, or oblaming them for the general policy failures of the past (which are plenty.

Both Council and the city's management are in an adaptive learning curve; I say let them adapt, instead of sending them to the guillotine.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 28, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Mike,

Yes, these are relatively difficult times...something new for PA officials and citizens. This means that symbolic things matter. When Yoriko demands, and gets, the beginings of a save-the-world environmental czar, what does that tell us? She is a green space cadet. It is stunning that the current council just doesn't seem to get it. I think the next crop of councilmembers will be somewhat more realistic.

Palo Alto is, slowly, learning to live within its means. Infrastructure, a stepchild for so long, is finally getting some attention. Perhaps we can start to focus on potholes, instead of CO2.


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Posted by Amazed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 10:21 am

Don't the five of you have anything better to do than tear apart every single city project? Gee, you sure do get a lot of mileage out of little or no factual knowledge. Every time I tune into this forum it's the same people making the same complaints and claiming that they could have done better, with half the budget, in half the time. It's so easy from your armchair, isn't it?

Now I'm sure you'll commence tearing ME apart...


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2007 at 10:29 am

Amazed, I have to agree with you. From what i read in these forums - kinds of a zen koan for me - thereis a *small* group of disgruntled people who hwhine about almost everything the city does. Sometimes there is a valid point, or two - but most of the time it's "armchair" second-guessing.

That said, if you're talking about me, you're just plain wrong :))


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Posted by Benest is like FEMA
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 29, 2007 at 11:37 am

Here is an example of what some people think should happen when a government makes a big public PR mistake.
In this case, FEMA had a phony press conference and the press found out about it.
"At FEMA Your IQ Must Be Below This Line"
Web Link


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2007 at 11:55 am

Mike
Ignorance is incompetence, when it costs 250K. For starters.
You seem to want/like to keep each issue sepperate. Then say well it is a isolated inncident.

Start keeping score. Add up all the Dollars gone.

Fool the citizens once, Fool then twice. Now how many times have the Citizens been fooled/conned?
When is it time to act on facts?


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 12:01 pm

> you sure do get a lot of mileage out of
> little or no factual knowledge

Read the contract.


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Fireman is (maybe for once) right. If this were an isolated incident, perhaps the miscreants should be given a pass. People do make mistakes. But here we seem lately to have a cascade of mistake after mistake, misjudgement after misjudgement and cover-up after cover-up.

At some point somebody has to take responsibility. Top suspect in this should be Benest. This has all happened on his watch.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of University South
on Oct 29, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Amazed,
Our street floods with almost any rain, and the city says it has "no money to add storm drains". We asked the city what it would cost and they said $20k-$40k to properly add an extension to our block (there's a connection a very short distance away, so it's a short half-block run).

When the city blows $250k on what is by all honest measures a complete debacle (the web site), yet doesn't have (high est) $40k to "improve" a street to 20th century drainage quality, that's when people like me get frustrated. For the cost of that website, the city could install new drainage for roughly 8 streets with the same issue as mine. A much greater priority, at least for those of us who live on streets that the city simply ignores.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2007 at 12:17 pm

But Anon...we already fixed the storm drains! In case you haven't looked lately, you're paying a tax even as we speak to take care of all the desperately needed storm drain projects in town.

Unfortunately in another of what (in your words) is by honest measures a complete debacle, the city goofed...by a lot.... And now they can do only fix half of what they said they'd fix when we voted them the money.

Enjoy the winter, Anon. At least you live in a town where we have superior services. Just ask anyone at city hall.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 1:11 pm

> When the city blows $250k on what is by all
> honest measures a complete debacle (the web site),
> yet doesn't have (high est) $40k to "improve" a
> street to 20th century drainage quality, that's
> when people like me get frustrated.

The last storm drain fee increase included a $250K/year line item for "innovation"--meaning that this money could be used to "experiment" with storm water handling techniques.

Perhaps some of this money would be better used fixing this Poster's problem, rather than "experimenting", particularly if there is no clear return on the investment of this money.

Poster--your neighborhood should consider creating an assessment district, which would allow the city to fix the storm drain problem and bill you directly for the cost of the work.


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Posted by Whats it about
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2007 at 2:21 pm

These items on tonight's council agenda are for MILLIONS, not thousands. Who understands this? Will it go to the same department as the web site???
9. Approval of a Software System Integration Services Contract with Axon Solutions, Inc. in the Amount of $6,292,073 for the SAP Software Upgrade and Implementation of SAP Industry-Specific Solution for Utilities and Adoption of a Budget Amendment Ordinance in the Amount of $4,000,000 to Increase Appropriation to Capital Improvement Project TE-07006, SAP Continuous Improvement Project

CMR: 386:07

10. Approval of a Three Year Maintenance Contract with Accela, Inc. in the Amount of $316,819 to Provide Web-Based Permitting Application and Maintenance Service

CMR: 379:07


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 2:39 pm


CMR: 386:07:
Web Link

Read the CMR.

Unfortunately there isn't a lot of information in the CMR (and of course, attachments are not available on-line). It would seem that the City is upgrading its SAP software, which is the main MIS engine.

While the costs seem high, they probably are not on-of-line with this sort of enterprise MIS software. SAP is one of the world's leaders enterprise software, so the city is not spending money on a fly-by-night outfit. The smaller expenditure is for some sort of interactive permitting software. This is long overdue. What is interesting, however, is that the amount spend on this project is more than on the web-site. Another reason for people to be concerned about this web-site.


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Posted by Whats it about
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Yes, that is what I read too. But I would have thought making online permitting possible would have been integral to the upgrade of the website.
So it gets to be close to $600,000 to upgrade the web site. So far.

The upgrade of the SAP software is either 6 million or 10 million dollars. The summary is written in such a way as to be not-understandable.
The costs don't "seem high." They ARE high for an upgrade.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 5:02 pm

> So it gets to be close to $600,000 to
> upgrade the web site. So far.

> The costs don't "seem high." They ARE high for an upgrade.

High compared to what? Someone ought to find out what the web-site costs are for a couple of other cities over a five year period.

My sense is that the city should have been thinking about an e-government delivery vehicle and spending more than $750,000. It would seem that with this additional $350K that the $750K target might turn out to be reality.

> The upgrade of the SAP software is either
> 6 million or 10 million dollars. The summary
> is written in such a way as to
> be not-understandable.

Sadly, this is typical of so many CMRs.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2007 at 5:09 pm

While I am no fan of the web site project, I would not have expected online permitting (and other transactional apps) to be part of it - pretty different functionality that needs to integrate with different backend systems. The additional money seems kind of high of an app to capture data and store it, but not really sure all of what it does.

It does happen in all kinds of businesses, large and small, that senior management (and middle for that matter) doesn't have the background to assess and manage IT projects, and so gets jammed by vendors sticking them with "essential" and "important" upgrades, add-ons, etc. They need to get an IT manager they can rely on to connect IT specifics to business (or govt) needs/opportunities. Not sure if we have that - if not, we're likely getting reasonably hosed.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 5:39 pm

> I would not have expected online
> permitting (and other transactional apps)

The on-line permitting (and other transactional apps) is "e-government". They are delivered through the web-site, and as suggested by the poster, would be implemented by code that taps into the "back end" of some data base system.

Typically, each of these additional applications could be implemented independently of each other, although there could be commonality that would require web-site support for certain functionality. For instance, it has been noted by some postings that a "confirmation number" should be generated for each transaction. Presumably each transaction would be logged in case some problem developed in the processing of each transaction that required the IT people to start researching the failed transaction from the time it entered "the system". These support functions would need to be designed-in when the initial web-site was done. Otherwise, retrofitting these functions would be costly (although not impossible).

As to whether the cost of these applications is "high", one would need to read the contracts and see in the city happened to be buying specialized programming or "off-the-shelf" software. Presumably the company contracting for the permitting application has other municipal clients. It wouldn't be that hard to locate a couple of them and see what those cities paid for their packages.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Alyssa;
250k wasted on a terrible web site is not ok, however, spending at least that much on a Paramedic Transport Engine Program that the City does not even HAVE is OK?
How much knowledge on the Fire Department do you have?
Do you have any idea how much money is wasted,then covered up?

The Citizens are paying for a platinum grade service and getting Tin coating. A long with tons of BS... Snake oil....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:19 pm

Um...Fireman...I was making a rhetorical point with ironic overstatement. I think we pretty much agree on things.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:26 pm

> The Citizens are paying for a platinum
> grade service and getting Tin coating.

A good city Auditor would be looking at this sort of thing. The PA Auditor has never audited the public safety departments.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Alyssa;

How many cover ups = a crime... Sandbag Gate.. Web-site gate...

Property tax,stay in the house gate... (9 months) pay for screwing up gate. Storm Drain gate.

Then the city will investigate its self.{Joke}

Do you think the Enron Corp should have been in charge of the investigation into its wroung doings..

I am fearful that if the City investagates its self, Frank will get another bonus..

When people let this kind of Leader go without being accountable. They take there rewards from a job incompently done,slip away in the night. Then resurface to do the same again.

I really would like to find out more about the Last Fire Chief.
Aircraft sat idle. Lets see what kind of job did he do here?
No Forestry firefighting experience,very little firefighting experience, Ran the City of Palo Alto Fire Department into the ground.Tried to close station #8 a Wildland/Forestry station.
Differant story. Kind of?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:34 pm

MM
Mr Vinson tried to... Chief Grijalva was one of Franks Buddies.
Then the City Attorney ran cover for them...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:36 pm

I actually think we have a decent Auditor, though as the recent review showed, her recommendations are largely ignored.

There is an annual review of the Fire Dept by the City Auditor (I didn't check the police); it is available on the city web site (!); I found it via Google. It is mostly standard stats, not critical review or suggestions for improvement. There have been recommendations about FD overtime reduction in the past.

Apropos to this thread, the link to the audits was the third or fourth item on Google for "palo alto auditor fire department" (above it were references from paloaltoonline.com); typing "auditor fire department" into the website search yielded very confusing list of items, none of which led to the audit. So, sadly, it is actually on the site, but the search function doesn't find it. Sigh.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:37 pm


> Mr Vinson tried to

So the story goes. Vinson signed a non-disclosure with the city, and left without revealing any of the details of his travails.

The current Auditor is unlikely to repeat Vinson's efforts.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:40 pm

> There is an annual review of the Fire Dept by the City Auditor

If the poster is suggesting the data provided by the Auditor in the year Service Performance document, this data is provided by the Fire Department. The Auditor does not obtain this data directly, but publishes what her Office is provided by the FD.

While it is true that the Auditor looked at FD overtime, this level of Audit is far removed from operational audits that would look to verify cost vs performance levels of a department.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:44 pm

BTW, I was unable to locate CMR: 386:07 with the city web-site's search function. I did go to the CMR section of the web-site, where I was able to locate the CMR. This is unacceptable. I also was not able to obtain a link through Google, which I believe I would have been able to do when the previous web-site was in place.

People reading this thread claiming that our discussion of the city's web-site displays great ignorance probably are heavy web-site users.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Woops .. should have written:

People reading this thread claiming that our discussion of the city's web-site displays great ignorance probably are not heavy web-site users.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Alyssa;
Just asking,{Maybe for once}Kind of hurt. I think if you look back at what I have had to say. Everything kind of checks out. From the start I have said"This is what I had seen",Or "watch the City Counsil meetings and heard". Lies and cover ups. The Citizens have been RIPPED OFF. And given a bunch of lies.. Lies = criminal actions.. Now if someone was to start an investigation? For real. No Fema stuff
No Sandbag stuff,that was a joke.. And the start...

One large part of the problem with Katrina, was the local Fire Department who's leaders have told huge stories to cover up there short comings.. Just like So Cal Fires????

Maybe you would like to hear my story. Ask Frank or the Counsil to look at my 11 page report. Or I can send it to you?

Funny how We {Firefighters and paramedics} are there for you..20 years of service to the Citizens of Palo Alto,however, when we/I need you.. No one home.. Or let the court figure it out. I worked for The Citizens of Palo Alto ,not the court..
Let Brandon,myself fight this City, Look at how it fights. Kind of Dirty... Oh and all the money they spend to hide the truth.. You are paying for... How many 20k storm drains would that be...

Get kind of run down trying to help,trying to help the {Whole} City of Palo Alto....Citizens and Employees...The Employees who have to hide and do as they are told,or else...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2007 at 4:20 am

They are actually blocking Google from parts or all of the site? That's why searching with Googles gets those bad links? This decision was presumably made by the same person who is unaware that email addresses of city employees can be displayed without being vulnerable to a spammer spider?

I would disagree with the statement that an IT group is not the place to look for web site building design or expertise. What kind of an IT group is it, if they are so unfamiliar with the web they could oversee this mess.

My small hometown (population a third of Palo Alto's, and medium income much lower, I'm sure) has a much better web site, which was built entirely by one city employee in the IT department in the time he had to spare from other projects.


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Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2007 at 8:42 am

I think it's fair to say the website is a disaster. So let's come up with an action plan to correct it. Do we start from scratch, convening a volunteer group of experienced web designers who'd like to collaborate to design a substitute? Who out there would volunteer to be part of such a task-oriented group? It would be great to make a list and see work started on this project. (I have absolutely no experience here but believe the approach would be constructive and less time-consuming than relying on staff to make various fixes to the current site.)


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Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:11 am

For the record, these were the comments submitted to the City Council regarding the website that were referenced in the article. The attachments are not included (they are printouts of parts of the website).

Comments on City of Palo Alto's New Website

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D. (Computer Science)
Researcher, Information Systems and Technology Management program, Baskin School of Engineering, UC Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto resident and small business owner

I wrote these comments after reading the response in CMR 371:07 dated October 1, 2007, "Update on the City Website Redesign Project." I have five key concerns: readability, finding content, archive, cost, and community input, and only the first two of these were addressed in the CMR.

I. Readability.

1. Text, text sizes, and background. Others have commented on how the default white text is hard to read against the gray background. The combination of the small type size of a sans serif typeface with a narrow pitch along with hairline features exacerbates the anti-alias "blur" effect when placed against a gray background. That's a lot of technical jargon for the simple fact that small white text against a dark gray background, while distinctive, is harder to read than is black text against a white background. The green text is particularly hard to read against the gray background due to the diminished contrast.

2. Use of text in images. As mentioned by a City Council member, most browsers include a command to increase the font size (this does help but it makes the layout worse). However, that command is ineffective with text that has been integrated as part of a picture (i.e., the graphic image includes both the picture and the text). When your browser makes the home page bigger, the text in the 8 icons across the top of the home page do not get larger. They are fixed in size, as those legends have been made part of the pictures. I've attached two PDF files that illustrate this problem (the text got converted to black on white by the printing process and the graphic images come out as boxes with picture and text combined).

3. Bad display on some browsers. The website renders poorly under some web browsers, notably Firefox on the Macintosh. For example, the list of CMR's renders poorly on this browser. The website does say it is best viewed on Internet Explorer 7 (see Web Link ), but this limitation is inappropriate in Silicon Valley, of all places.

II. Finding content.

4. Bad search results. I searched for "Update on the City Website Redesign Project." This report (CMR 371:07) did not show up in any of the results. (See attached search report.) Searching for the text "CMR 371:07" returned nothing. The report did show up in the list of CMR's, however, so it was available to the search but somehow not found.

When you click on "Search engine" (which is in tiny light gray print on the bottom of each page), it gives you to this text:

"Search Engine

"Search is a crucial component of the City of Pao (sic) Alto web site. Search provides connectivity to all web site file types, News Details, Departmental PDFs, Minutes, Agendas and Reports, and Contacts for easy and quick aggregated searching of all web site documents. When a citizen, business, or municipality needs information or services that don't emerge through site navigation, search often provides the most efficient path to the desired result."

Not only is that text confusing to the typical reader, you have to scroll up to the top of the page to find the search bar. Many pages have the search bar, but some do not. For example, the page Web Link is missing a search bar.


5. Strange data organization.  The CMR's for 2007 are listed under 2007, and similarly for 2006. The ones for 2005 are listed by Month in reverse alphabetical order of the spelling of the month. Similarly for 2004, 2002, and 2001. The year 2003 is missing.

6. Webpages to PDF. Some of the content, such as Frank's Weekly Memo, that was displayed on ordinary web pages in the older website is now distributed only as PDF files that must be downloaded to be displayed. When that content is downloaded, it is often given a random filename not indicative of the content. For example, it is easier for the user if a CMR is automatically named CMR371-07.pdf rather than "CMR." This means if the file is retained on the hard drive of a user's computer, the user needs to rename it to be meaningful later.

(cont'd below)


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Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:11 am

7. More clicks to content. What used to be available through one click often now takes multiple clicks. Sometimes moving content that used to be on a webpage to a PDF file has added clicks. What used to be found through navigation now often requires search and yet more clicks. That makes it more tedious for users to find what they are looking for. Some webpages that were consolidated in the old website (such as the San Francisquito Creek JPA) are now split into News Article (which appears first in the search) and a Know Zone article. The main Know Zone article does not show up in the search, but several Know Zone articles representing various pieces (repurposings) of the full Know Zone article do show up in the search. In general, the main Know Zone article is an extra click away.

8. Redirections to nowhere.  Someone who now accesses a web address that worked on the old website will find the new website will redirect to the new location of the content if the redirection is coded into the new website. If the redirect is not coded into the new website, the new website will try to do a search if the old web address was obtained from a search engine's cache. First, the redirect to the search page does not appear to work on a Macintosh when using the Firefox browser (a blank page appears instead). Second, these old website addresses often came from external links, such as from websites of other public agencies. While search engines caches will automatically "learn" the new addresses over time (but see #9 below), other websites, such as those of other public agencies, will have to be manually updated. Because the City has little or no control over those outside websites, the process of adding such redirects will be ongoing. The process of adding those redirect links would have been easier to do if the old website had been saved (see #11). For example, the Santa Clara Valley Water District website Web Link has a link to the San Francisquito Creek JPA Web site Web Link which causes the new City website to do a search for "jpa/index.html" which in turn results in no matches found. It is far easier for the City to program the redirection than it is for us to get the rest of the world to update their websites accordingly.

9. Incompatibility with commercial search engines. The old web site mainly used navigation (clicking from page to page through "menus" or links in narrative content) for users to get to content. That worked if you knew how to find what you are looking for. It also is compatible with how search engines like Google work. The new website puts much of its content in a database. This database content is not easily accessible by search engines like Google. In November 2006, Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft jointly announced the Sitemap Protocol, so that websites can make their content (including that stored in databases) accessible for search by search engines. (See Web Link and Web Link )  The City's new website does not implement the Sitemap Protocol that would facilitate public search engines, like Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, to improve search to the new website. Each of these public search engines has invested far more resources in improving search results than any city can or that Civica can. So users are left only with the internal search provided, which often fails to find content (see #4, #7, and #8 above). The City should work with the contractor to implement the Sitemap Protocol to make City website content available more rapidly through public search engines. (See also #13.)

10. Identifying search terms. Search engines provide the search terms to a website when linking to the website. It is not clear from the report dated October 1, 2007 (CMR 371:07) whether the list of searches is from the website's internal search interface or from these search engine referrals. City staff should use the logs in the new website determine popular searches, and not merely rely on the searches from the internal search engine.


III.  Archive.

11. Removing the old website. The choice to take down existing and old content when bringing up the new website was a big mistake. The website is a useful and critical resource to the public. There would have been little harm from moving the old website to a link where it was still accessible. For example, the home page could have a link to cityofpaloalto.org/oldwebsite/ where the old content would be stored. Then those people who had trouble finding the desired content could do it the old way. The summary removal of old content is especially a problem for Council and Commission reports and minutes, whose importance as reference material does not diminish because they are a few years old. While most CMR's since 2001 have been moved, not all reports of Boards and Commissions have been. Many civic issues are around for years, and the ability to research past analyses and deliberations is critical for those newly elected or appointed to office, as well as members of the public.

As discussed in #8 above, accessing web addresses that worked on the old website often redirect to nowhere by the new website. Had the old website been retained as an accessible archive, the redirect could have instead been to the corresponding place in the archive. Doing so would have been a helpful transition move, even if not permanent. Another way to use the archive would be to search the new website using the title of the corresponding webpage of the old website. Such an automated approach is easily programmed, provides helpful content rather than a useless "no matches found" search result, and yet keeps a user from inadvertently stumbling on the old website. (Through appropriate directives, search engines could be instructed not to index the restored archive website.) This is a case when retaining the old website as an archive is both feasible and useful. Since staff is performing the process of restoring documents to the new website, I assume the old website was saved.

Often new systems need tuning and do not work right the first time. That's why it is standard industry practice to do parallel operation for a period of time when it is feasible to do so. In this case, the new website can be static, without new content being added to it. I recommend that the old website be restored until the process of migrating all content and repairing redirections (see #8) is complete.

IV. Cost.

12. Comparison with other cities.  Local newspapers have compared the cost and results of Palo Alto's web redesign and those of other cities. Their reports indicate that our redesign has cost more, took more time, and resulted in a worse design.

13. Open source.  Open source web content management systems exist and should have been considered along with proprietary software that locks us into a single vendor for the long term. The use of open source could reduce acquisition costs, lower maintenance costs by avoiding vendor lock-in, provide more advanced functionality (such as Web 2.0 features), and reduce the potential for creating applications that we will later consider to be legacy applications without easy migration paths. For example, the use of open source content management system would likely allow the changes to implement the Sitemap Protocol to make the City website content available more rapidly through public search engines (see #9). Please note that commercial support is usually available when using open source. Apache is open source webserver software that is used to run more websites than all commercial offerings combined.

14. Community self-service. Part of the reason so much time, energy, and funding went into the website redesign is there was also some software rearchitecting to implement a content management system. Some self-service features have been created (reporting abandoned bicycles, bicycle thefts, car burglaries, lost property, grand theft, petty theft, vandalism (but not graffiti), traffic complaints, leafblower complaints, Shoreline Amphitheatre noice complaints, confidential tips, employee commendations, and complaints) for the police, and reporting code enforcement violations is on the new website, like it was on the old one. There are further opportunities, and I hope that future plans involve implementation of issues like these.
a. Residents and business employees could register for notifications and how they want to be notified through emergency notification system, and update that information themselves when it changes.
b. People could report potholes, graffiti, street lights that are out, leaky sprinklers in parks, etc., and then be notified automatically when the problem has been resolved (if they included an email address).
c. Businesses of any size could annually enter data about their businesses into a free Business Registry that gathers data on all employers within the city. When a business registers, the Business Registry automatically prints out a suitable business license. Staff and Council then have the information they need on local businesses without first having to fight about implementing a Business License Fee. It's better to save that fight for any subsequent taxes the Council might want to impose based on the data obtained through the Business Registry.

V. Community input.

15. Community help and input. Contrast the process for the new website design with the process for choosing a new emergency notification system. In the latter, knowledgeable citizens were brought into a working group with staff to develop requirements, write the Request for Proposals (RFP), and to evaluate responses. In contrast, the new website redesign project was done without involvement by knowledgeable citizens.

16. Web site comment form. The first name, last name, and email address are all listed as optional. There is tiny text that reads, "Please be aware when you email the City, your email address becomes a public record. If you do not wish your email address to be a public record, send your correspondence via postal mail to The City of Palo Alto, Office of the City Clerk." Then there is a checkbox that reads, "I UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THE TERMS ABOVE" What terms is the user agreeing to? That the email address they submit is a public record? What about the rest of the content submitted, is that also a public record? Since the user is submitting a form, what does that have to do with sending email to the City? The comment box is small, does not wrap, and displays only two lines. The comment box should be bigger, should wrap, and should scroll vertically (not horizontally as it does now) to facilitate feedback.

But compare that information with the Privacy Notice Information, which states:

"If during your visit to the City of Palo Alto Web Site you participate in a survey, fill out a Web form, or send an email, the following additional information will be collected:

"* The email address and contents of the email; and
"* Information volunteered to complete a Web form or in response to a survey.

"If you send us an email with a question or comment that contains personally identifiable information, or fill out a form that emails us this information, we will only use the personally identifiable information to respond to your request and analyze trends. This may be to respond to you, to address issues you identify, or to further improve our Web site. We may redirect your message to another department, division or program within the City that is in a better position to answer your question. Survey information is used only for the purpose designated."

The Privacy Notice Information has other text indicating that (most) information becomes public record. So the above cited text (and the remainder of the Privacy Notice) should be checked by the City Attorney.



Summary

Palo Alto was the first city with its own website (in 1994), which was done pro bono by engineers at Digital Equipment Corporation (a company after several mergers that is now part of HP). Thirteen years later, an expensive bureaucratic procurement process has resulted in a website that many consider a step backward. I recommend that the City staff work with local pro bono resources from residents and businesses to determine how best to proceed, given the sunk cost in time, effort, and money invested in the new redesign. A staff-and-community website review committee can provide advice for how to improve the design, implementation, and usability of the new website. I'm sure that there are knowledgeable and civic minded people who would rather volunteer to help City staff fix the the new website than continue to be frustrated trying to use it as it is.

By taking advantage of pro bono resources available within the community, Palo Alto can have a leading edge website that is easy to use and enhances the delivery of City services; staff, Commission, and Council effectiveness; and citizen participation.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:20 am

I like Karen's idea..

What a great idea. There are so many very bright,skilled people who live in Palo Alto{Some of the best in the world}

They could meet the City Leaders get to know them, Learn more about them and maybe open the doors of this City up a little bit..
Maybe most of these Leaders might have a real world meltdown..

Plus they spent all the money....


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:22 am

> I would disagree with the statement that an IT group is not
> the place to look for web site building design or expertise.
> What kind of an IT group is it, if they are so unfamiliar with
> the web they could oversee this mess.

IT people routinely are involved with the "nuts-and-bolts" of the IT services delivered to an operation. They install hardware, software and customer support, as needed. These folks routinely are not degreed (although management typically is). These sorts of people typically are not called upon to make decisions about the selection of vendors of enterprise software, although doubtless their input is sought for some aspects of such decisions.

The IT department was previously responsible for the Palo Alto web-site, although one poster indicated that DEC engineers had been contributors to the initial effort. There are tools available to reduce the tedium of coding the pages, but all of the "value added" that makes a web-site interesting, or "great", has to be provided by the web-page/site developer (meaning a person).

It's doubtful that most small IT departments would have the expertise to develop robust enterprise web-sites.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:29 am

Mr Keller

Please copy everything. And if you could ask them about. The nut who calls himself Fireman, Ask them About the 11 pages??? That would be written, not oral...
Please tell them to stop the dirty little games and deal with me.. So I can go away and try to pick up the peices and start over again..
Maybe they could pick the pace up.. This has gone on for far too long..
Having to listen to Mike is making me more crazy then I already am. Then working in that Fire Department made me.. Leaders????? Then lead
Start heading for truth and justice.. That would be a 180 from where you are heading now.
Find a little common sense on the way ...


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:31 am

> By taking advantage of pro bono resources available
> within the community, Palo Alto can have a leading edge
> website that is easy to use and enhances the delivery
> of City services; staff, Commission, and Council
> effectiveness; and citizen participation.

This idea of having a "citizen's committee" is not a good one at all.

There are many reason why, but the most important one is accountability: how would such a group be accountable? Resident/volunteers can not be sued. They can not be fired, although they can be dismissed from their task.

As to the original question: what can be done? There probably is no simple answer, but a couple spring to mind:

1) Ask and answer the question:

What does Palo Alto want in a web-site?

This means putting together a "vision statement" which accurately
describes the purpose and capabilities of site.

2) Get the Council to recognize that there is a problem needing a solution and force the issue with a Colleague's Memo to the City Manager demanding that he stop work on this site and rethink the matter.

It would not be that big a deal to restore the old web-site and start over. The fact that $250K has been lost is not that big a deal, considering all of the other money that has been spent over the years in various projects.


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Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:39 am

Sounds like we've got a team! Arthur, Management Matters, pat and Smokey would make a talented group to start work. Who else with a suitable skill set could be recruited for this community-based effort?


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:40 am

MM;

Would the Citizens,not getting paid for there work. Having a Counsil approval or Public vote on the web site. Keep any legal action from having any ground.
Let the people vote. The cost would be very little, far from 250k and counting.
The Citizens that live here and work here,I would think know more about this place then any outside group looking for a big fat pay day for junk.
You might not get the people you think/hope you might but the cost to return would be fantastic if it worked. Now that would be something to brag about... A Matter of Pride...
And if it did not work, what did you lose. A couple free lunches??


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:49 am

Aside from Arthur, and possibly Pat (who is almost always in attack mode), how many of the above would be welcome - **and able to work collaboratively** - in an effort to repair or rebuild this site?

Karen;s idea and intentions are good, but if we're going to rebuild this website, or repair it with volunteers, ONE individual (possibly Arthur) should be set up as a volunteer project lead, to collaborate with City Hall personnel in the service of bringing onthers in.

Somehow, I have a hard time imagining the four people (excepting Arthur) that Karen mentioned working well together with City Hall personnel, in a collaborative environment.

Prove me wrong. I really want to be wrong about that.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:51 am

Karen:
Good luck.. I think Common Sense would be one thing the counsil might see. Maybe? The Employee's have a great knowledge base also.
I know I have been in places that I never knew where places in Palo Alto. History is something that is a {treasure} and should not be let go of..
Palo Alto has a fantastic history. Lots of the people suck,No true LEADERS SUCK, but the place is cool... and the surroundings.. Stanford has always been part of the same history.

Then the darkness and the Vampires, Maybe the sun will shine again.
Naming something after MLK is a great start.. If you do it because you beleive in it... Not just a PR shot?


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:57 am

> Sounds like we've got a team! Arthur, Management Matters,
> pat and Smokey would make a talented group to start work.
> Who else with a suitable skill set could be recruited for
> this community-based effort?

Picking three uncompensated people who have posted here (expressing varying degrees of expertise in the matter) is hardly the basis of a "team" to replace the work of compensated professionals.

Designing something complicated takes a lot of time and people who have to work in groups take a lot longer than a single talented person might take (ie--artists always work alone). Any kind of design effort has to be sized in terms of hundreds of man-hours. Do you really believe that there are people living in Palo Alto who are capable of redesigning the web-site (as a group) when that kind of time is involved? Be realistic.

(And by the one, at least one of the people you have identified is not a "team player". That person usually makes an effort to control every meeting attended. It's unlikely that many "talented" people would permit themselves to be marginalized by someone with no expertise in enterprise software development.)

This is simply a bad idea. The right place to start is with the city council.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:57 am

I know Mike ..It will never work, It will never fly, You can't do that. Can't be done..
Why can't they try?? There is a 250k pile of junk, How bad could they screw up???
Maybe let them start by fixxing the web site that is there now.. As a temp until they have a chance to show you some substance of what there can do..
Lots of people work together well, that many thought might not..
And a fix to the not so good web site might show there skills and woking relationship??
If I voted that would be a Yes, give them a chance...


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:03 am

MM
I do not think, the counsel would pick, a butcher,baker and a candle stick maker.
This is the Computer Capital of the world? Maybe, Bright people around here. This is not your standard folks here.
See who you could get and then ,see if the people show up. Who can do the work??

Build it and they will COME?????? Do not kill it like the MESSANGER who carried it...


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:04 am

I agree with M&M. Let's not trivialize the task - its a real project that needs a real team. I'm not sure the current team can't do it - my sense is that they were not managed well, we did not have the right deliverables in mind, and we accepted things that did not work as intended. These are management failures, not technical failures (for the most part).

Until somebody senior at City Hall management gets their feet held to the fire to make this right, and takes a personal and direct interest in getting it straightened out, it won't get done. Only the Council can really do that. Otherwise, this will just be another "superior city service" that we are lucky enough to receive ;-)


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Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:14 am

My thought is for this to be an independent group, working in parallel with (not alongside) staff. The Neighborhood Team that developed computer simulations of flooding along San Francisquito Creek, then presented it to the City and the JPA, followed this model. They were an independent group of experts who voluntarily conducted research, analyzed data, and ultimately presented their findings to policy-makers.
In the current instance, I'd be concerned that staff would not be supported in any effort to create a substitute for what's already been paid for. I think it would be more constructive for the Community Website Design Team to work separately (if they'd prefer), as the Neighborhood Team did. Other thoughts on this?


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:28 am

> The Neighborhood Team that developed computer
> simulations of flooding along San Francisquito Creek,

While this team did some very good work, the reality is that this information (and possible solutions) has all but been ignored by the city. (The simulations, by the way, came from software that was developed by the Army Corps of Engineers--not this team.)

The point about accountability is doubtless the reason why this team's work has been ignored, even though several of the ideas were interesting. At the very least, this team's work indicated that the person hired by the city to deal with this issue via a JPA was not capable of doing anything but pushing paper. Yet, she is still employed with no visible results after several years on the job.

One thought that I will give you, however. There are tapes of the focus sessions available which are said to be in the public domain (I was provided that information by the City Attorney's Office). So, why not get the tapes, and have a public showing. At least people would be able to see what the Focus Group said when asked. A public group could then point out to the Council that what the public wanted is not what the public got. (The point in the article leading off this thread points out that the City Manager's vision was a "Destination Palo Alto"-esque web-site. So, at a minimum, it could be shown that running the Focus group was a waste of time for this City Manager.)


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2007 at 12:07 pm

First, there is probably no way that any local team would be able to suffieciently access the backend of the City's system. We're talking about a very significant piece of work (remember, SAP is involved, and there are other pieces), and security issues.

Trying to do something like this in parallel is not a good idea. City staff would lneed to be intimately involved.

Why redo the focus groups? Basic website functionality is what we want. Where did the focus groups lead us? Nowhere. (note: Apple doesn't use focus groups for its lead designs, and they do fine)

I simply do not understand why we can't demand a redo from the vendors. That would be the easiest way.


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 12:18 pm

> I simply do not understand why we can't
> demand a redo from the vendors.

Read the contract. The vendors did what they were supposed to do.

(That said, the fact that Google/Yahoo "crawlers" seem blocked could be a technical problem. The nature of the blocking needs to be explained by someone.)


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Re design by citizens committee: This is a bad idea for reasons already mentioned but also because everyone and his teenager seems to think they can design websites. Just because there's software available that makes it relatively easy, doesn't mean the end result will be good. I've seen sites designed by amateurs (for free, for nonprofits) and they usually had to be trashed.

Remember years ago when PageMaker and other software for creating newsletters came out? Remember how many truly ugly amateur newsletters were produced, using every font and style available?

Creating websites is a job for professionals with design, as well as technical, expertise.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2007 at 3:54 pm

MM, "Read the contract. The vendors did what they were supposed to do."

I did read the contract, but the end product isn't functional. You keep missing that rather large point. End product is *connected* to work done. If a plumber puts new pipes in and I can't get water from the faucet after s/he leaves, there's a problem.

You are naive if you think a demand letter frrom a city attorney wouldn't mean anything to these vendors. The next step is gettingi their name in the press, exactly where they don't want it to be, in a way that would show just how poor their project-end diligence was.


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2007 at 3:56 pm

How do we know a Professional or two, will not be in the group.

Terry has a point... Maybe it was not the workers/employee's. Maybe it was the LEADERS who lead them in the wroung direction...AGAIN..

In the Fire Department we did a good job. Because the Leaders are never there to lead. Out of town somewhere. Linning up there next job. While the City foots the bill..

Only the big jobs got messed up.. If they think a camera will be there, you can count on them to be there... Smile... It is only Rome burnning.. Keep playing... Frank


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Posted by Management-Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

> did read the contract, but the end product
> isn't functional.

Says who?

Did you find any functional specification? The city did not even come close to creating a contractual setting where "non-functional" can be determined. These contracts are so loose that you could drive a Panzer Division through them.

The city is the one that had the right to make the call about what is functional or not. It would seem that they have failed at every level to make the necessary tests that would allow both parties to agree that the contractors work is "non-functional".

Before anyone can declare a software product "non-functional", there has be a "deficiency list" (or bug report for insiders). Did the city create a "deficiency list"?

Since you are claiming that the site is "non-functional"--why don't you create a deficiency list and send it to the Council (posting it here too). It would be interesting to see your list.

(Oh, and since you have negotiated so many out-sourced web-sites, why not post the language from one of your contracts that requires the out-source vendor to "redo" the work any time you yell: "Redo".)


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Posted by Amazed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2007 at 5:20 pm

You've got to be kidding me. A group of you are planning to re-do the city's web site yourselves? Very funny.

OK, then. I'm a Microsoft shareholder. I don't like their web site. I think I'll do my own Microsoft site and expect them to use mine because I like it better.

Get real!


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2007 at 11:46 pm

Amazed, right on! This is a job that *continues* to require coordination from city hall, and a redo by the original contractors. That would be my bias. the city's information system is way more complicated than the website, so outside volunteers would find themselves entangled in all kinds of legal conflicts, right away. (security, privacy, etc.) It ain't gonna happen.

MM, I would **never** post past work contracts. You have to be kidding. Just making that demand shows me you haven't directed high level contracts.

you said: "Before anyone can declare a software product "non-functional", there has be a "deficiency list" (or bug report for insiders). Did the city create a "deficiency list"?"

What? This is a software *deployment*, that's supposed to be part of an interactive *whole*. I don't think you know what you're talking about. I have seen website vendors sued for less than the insufficient job that these two dis (or rather, didn't do).

Why are you stuck in the details of a work service contract, anyway. Are you aware of the power that a demand letter can generate? It's time to get tough with these vendors, make them knuckle under, and insist that they make their work *functional*. Otherwise, sue them!

There is, as stated prior, culpability by the city, but it's a *shared* culpability. My question to you - ***a question that continues to go unanswered*** - remains: "would you, as a project manager for one of these vendors, let your client sign off on this work prior to testing, or following testing that showed the website's almost complete lack of basic functionality?"

Answer the question, and stop playing lawyer. There are ways to get things done outside the language in a contract. If you don't agree, get ye to a Torts and Contracts textbook (ist year law).


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 12:47 am

Mike, you make me chuckle, I can't figure out if and when you are being serious.

Aside from the fact that, as MM says, we don't have any basis to get a do-over per the contract - THE CITY IS SAYING THE WORK IS FINE. They've accepted it, deployed it, defended it, and presumably paid the invoices. So pretty hard at this point to suddenly realize that it "doesn't work" and ask for money back or some kind of major rework.

So we get it - you think the vendors did a bad job and somehow took advantage of their clients (the City). At this point, the major issue seems to be that the clients STILL DON'T SEE ANY PROBLEM.

This seems to undermine your argument - if the City thinks what we have now is ok, then apparently this more or less is what they asked for. Which means they asked for something we agree is not very good. Hence we have a problem with client, which supersedes any issues with the vendors.

As for what the contractor's project manager should have done, given the above, we have no reason not to think that the PM DID raise concerns about the work and the city told them it was fine and what they wanted. So yes, in that case, I would say "Ok", submit my invoice, and be done. Would I "let" my client sign off on it - how exactly do I stop them? They are willing to defend to the public, they certainly can defend it to me.


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Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 5:22 am

Fixing the City website should be the first thing the new Council tackles in January. Credibility of City management is critical to passing public safety and library bonds; this website killed what little credibility City management had left. I am worried that opponents will use the $250,000 clunker being passed off as the new and improved City website as reason Number One that City management has no clue how to manage a project to a cost-effective or successful conclusion, nor will they even admit the City website has become our "the King has no clothes" disaster. Palo Alto bond issues are doomed until the City of Palo Alto website becomes much more user friendly to Palo Alto taxpayers. Hopefully, the $347 million new school bond coming in June escapes the fall out.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 11:59 am

Terry, believe me, the city knows there is a problem with the website; it's just that staffers haven't offered to be pilloried in the public square, which is what most of the people on this ithread seem to want. If I was a public employee in Palo Alto, I would never offer myself up to the wolves in this city wh othrive on trashing public employees.

Also, Terry, the staff did sigh off on the project. My question: *how* on earth could a contractor have let that happen. Good contractors have their client's best interest at heart. Bad contractors, don't. I would again urge out legal group to send a demand letter to these vendors, and get a serious negotiation going about getting this thing done in a way that those contractors would want things done if it was *their* website.

If this doesn't happen, or if the vendors don't come through voluntarily, there are ways to make known how shoddy their work and follow through was. That will cost them in the marketplace. It's their choice.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Susan, the website is a problem, yes, but it's fixable. If you want to use the website to cost out city millions in additional monet that construction inflation will cost us down the road, when we eventually *do* have to make (currently) necessary improvements, then I would question your logic, relative to what poor management (fiscal and otherwise) is.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Well, Mike, by your definition looks like the city chose "bad" contractors, who do what their clients say, not what they should have said. Let's stop with the "send them a demand letter" stuff - if the work is accepted, paid for, and being defended by the staff, that's a red herring.

The real issue is the staff itself; and more specifically, the senior management that let's this kind of expensive mistake happen - AND then doesn't own up to it.

Let's address the root causes, not just spin the dials on the machine.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Terry, where we differ is that you want management gone for making a mistake, and I want management stay and repair a mistake. There's a massive loss ofo efficiency in the former, and a lot of kept knowledge, and gained efficiency, in the lattter.


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Posted by no defense
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 31, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Mike -

I think you're wrong on this one. The city management and city IT is compensated comparably to private industry (if you include benefits).

Their performance is just nowhere near private industry performance in this area.

This is not "just one mistake" and it is so egregious that it indicates lack of ability. Not clear if the issue is experience, training, effort, common sense, focus, responsibility level, whatever. But there is so much insight so easily available regarding what our website should do and how it should do it, that it doesn't take a genius or super employee to get it right. Yes, Arthur's a PhD, but so many others see some or most of these issues in an instant. And tiny operations far away from the resources here in Palo Alto get this right all the time.

How can you continue to defend this performance?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 1:38 pm

no defense, did i say I like the website? No. In fact, I think it's a very bad piece of work; that's been repeated many times.

I have also said that the city *shares* culpability with the contractor. Why is everyone letting the contractors off so easy? I don't get it. The only thing I can come up with is that the fervor among the small crowd of "let's fire staff" voices in this forum has blinded the latter to this shared culpability.

The employees involved have been put through the ringer; they have admitted that there is a problem. That said, I don't like thatthey white-washed the quality of the website in front of Council last week.

You and I differ, in that I think the city is mostly well run. We do need to focus on some performance issues, but the latter are not enough to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Institutional memory and knowledge in a muncipality - especially in a community like Palo Alto - is somethingi that one doesn't dispose of lightly. Occasional unhappinesses are not sufficient to remove people who are mostly doing a fine job.

Don't you make mistakes on your job? We all do. Try to get over it, and let's move on.

Why let the contractors off on this one? Sure, in the private sector, someone might get fired for this, because one would *expect* in the private sector to have indoviduals who are web savvy, in terms of front-face marketing.

That's not the case here. IN a way, staff is a victim of letting certain outside influences into decisions like what our website should look like. I think all parties have been chastened by thsi experience, and a good lesson has been learned.

Let's get on with the business ofo growing this city into a sustainable whole.




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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Mike, you have a habit of putting words in other people's mouths. I never wrote above that "I want management gone for making one mistake" or anything like it.

I think there is a pattern of poor performance across a range of issues. That points to senior management . Should they be fired? I doubt all of them, and maybe not even many - but I think the Council and the CM, if he is capable, must focus much harder on good execution vs good intentions. As in any other org, some people won't like the change and will leave; some will adapt; some will love it; and a very few will need to be replaced.

But unlike you, I guess, I think we have an underperforming organization in City Hall. And rather than blame the vendors, I would like to do something about it that will give us better results, in the web site and on a range of other issues.



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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Terry, how do you know if they're underperforming, if you haven't lived in their shoes? I know a few things about how staff functions; if you were privy to what I know (and have tried to relate in the past) you might see things differently.

The proof in all this will be shown as senior managers leave. Many are expected to retire in the next few years. Frankly, I don't think we're going to be better off because of that.

I don't see a "pattern ofo poor performance" - rather, I see a pattern of shifting priorities, forced on staff by regular interruptions in policy focus (until very recently), undue demands for micro-managed information from operations, by certain policy makers, and undue weight given to certain outside influencers who prance about city hall as if they owned the place.

This is a very tough place to work in, and we diminish oursselves by failing to appreciate all the good things that staff accomplish in this city.

Back to the website. Apparently, yuo have never sued a software vendor; I have. Believe me, there are ways - even aside from taking legal action - that those vendors could be brought back to negotiate a good end to all this.

Why you would exclude that powerful tactic from consideration, is beyond me.


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Why should local citizens have to volunteer to fix a government website?

I didn't particularly care for the old city website but I'd much rather have it back now. The new one does not meet minimum standards.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Mike, there you go again ;-) I didn't say we should take anything off the table. And yes, I've sued a few vendors in my day. If you may have "special ways" of making vendors do your bidding, please, tell us. We would all like to learn. Or is it too secret to post?

You are also talking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand, there is no pattern of poor performance. On the other, there are shifting priorities, etc. Which is it - are they doing well or poorly?

If they are delivery weak results, which I believe, then yes, I agree, we should start with a better council. And that Council should be who holds the CM and senior staff's feet to the fire for results. And we'll see what gets delivered.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 7:11 pm

Terry, send a demand letter - start there. btw, please post yuor past enterprise website contracts with vendors, I'd love to see them, since you mockingly think that's such a simple thing to do, and that one should do it - in any case. I wonder what your empoyers would think of that - past and present.

Don't hold your breath before someone gets fired over this website. The recent flaps in city hall have been blown out of proportion, mostly by people who think they can do it better.

YOu're invited to put your name in the waiting line, Terry. There are about 75 people ahead of you, and they're still looking for work.


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Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 31, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Palo Alto Online limits the number of URLs in my comment. Theerfore, I have had to delete links that would make it easier for you to locate information referred to in this post.

Frank Benest began his job as Palo Alto's City Manager on Monday, April 10, 2000.

On Sunday, April 16 2000, the city launched its new web site, as described in this story in the Stanford Daily of April 20, 2000: Web Link

During Benest's tenure as City Manager, the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive crawled the web and displayed for the public a historical record of Palo Alto's web pages that grew to over 50,000 pages by the time that a new web site was launched about August 1, 2007.

The City's news story about the new 2007 web site is no longer available on the City's web site, but is still preserved on Google.

A Capital Improvement Project for a new web site was approved by the Council in June 2005 as part of the 2005-2007 Budget.

The project description mentioned that the then current web site contained over 10,000 pages.

Staff requested Council approval of the contracts for the new web site on January 23, 2006 when staff placed on Council's Consent Calendar a staff report with the contracts attached.

The contracts make clear that it is Creativewerks that was responsible for the web site and that Civica was merely providing the coding for the web site Creativewerks designed.

Task 3 of Creativewerks contract's scope of services at page 27 of 30 of the attachment to the staff report says, "Creativewerks shall produce a Programming Requirements binder to be used by Civica during the programming phase of the CMS [Content Management System] implementation."

Task 5 of Creativewerks contract's scope of services at page 28 of 30 of the attachment to the staff report says, "Creativewerks shall conduct usability testing to address any user issues with the new design."

Civica's scope of work at pages 8 through 13 of the attachment to the staff report appears to indicate that the public acess Internet is on a Civica's server (Deliverable 1 at page 9), while the City's private access Intranet is on the Palo Alto Intranet Server (Deliverable 4 on page 9). If the City's public web site is on a Civica server in Newport Beach, maybe that is why access is so slow compared to the old web site that was a block away from the Palo Alto Internet Exchange.

At the beginning of this year, on January 29, 2007, the City issued a Request for Quotation for Professional Photography Services (RFQ P121151) for the "Provision of 3 Full Days of Photography Services in and aroundthe City of Palo Alto, capturing a sense of living and/or working in Palo Alto, producing thematic municipal artwork such as Library activities, Public Works projects, City personnel such as Fire, Police, and Park service, etc.; City Council sessions, and any other aspect of the City deemed appropriate by the selection committee. The images produced will be entirely the property of the City of Palo Alto, and able to be used for any purpose the City deems
appropriate, however these images are intended for web site
publication. Detailed Scope of Work to be provided by selected
Photograher for this lump Sum are included in Exhibit A.Deliverables to include Digital image files on DVD or CD-ROM."

Pixelpushers, Inc., says "Pixelpushers assisted with the custom programming and flash technology to make this sleek new design interactive and appealing. This design is not like any other governement based web site.' (Web Link)

The staff report recommending Council approval of Creativewerk's and Civica's contracts said the City's web site contained only 2,200 pages, not the over 10,000 pages that existed only 18 months before, but comments to the press this summer from City staff imply that the over 10,000 web pages still exist on the old web site.

The first time the reduction from over 10,000 pages to only 2,200 pages was mentioned was in the Requests for Proposal for the contracts that were sent to potential bidders, but the RFPs were not shown to the Council, because the Council only reviews a limited number of RFPs.

When the new web site was launched there was already a policy initiated by staff to eliminate public access to most of the previous web site's information, despite staff's repeated referral to a web site of over 10,000 web pages, and despite staff's repeated statements that they were busy transferring information from the old web site to the new one.

Staff even included in the new web site the ability to automatically delete press releases after a specified time, so instead of having years of press releases from the City and the Police Department, the news story announcing the launch of the new web site has now been deleted from the web site.

When I learned that Palo Alto's former web site might be available on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, I accessed that site in early August 2007 and was able to find the addresses of over 50,000 current and former pages from Palo Alto's web site.

However, by Thursday, August 16, 2007, those pages were no longer available because someone in the City of Palo Alto had included code in the root of Palo Alto's web site to block robots crawling the web.

It is clear that the decision to block access to Palo Alto web pages at the Internet Archive was made by Palo Alto and not by its contractor Civica, because all of the government web sites produced by Civica and its parent Pixelpushers, Inc. are available on the Internet Archive, with the possible exception of one site that is currently being updated by Civica.

Pixelpushers, Inc., and its subsidiary Civica don't include Palo Alto's web site in their gallery of web sites, but do include web sites of 40 other government agencies, one of which is not available because it is being reconstructed.

All 39 of the accessible web sites are available on the Internet Archive.

Pixelpushers gallery is at Web Link, Civica shows six of these web sites at Web Link and Web Link, and the latter site also has four additional sites including the site being reconstructed.

The Internet Archive normally does not honor requests to remove and block access to government web pages in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, but I wondered how a computer could tell that the request from a web site that ends in ".org" is a government web site.
So now I get the following error message when I try to access either the current or former Palo Alto home page on the Internet Archive:

"We're sorry, access ... has been blocked by the site owner ..."

Here is what the Internet Archive says about about why some sites are not available:

"Some sites are not available because of robots.txt or other exclusions. What does that mean?
The Standard for Robot Exclusion (SRE) is a means by which web site owners can instruct automated systems not to crawl their sites. Web site owners can specify files or directories that are disallowed from a crawl, and they can even create specific rules for different automated crawlers. All of this information is contained in a file called robots.txt. While robots.txt has been adopted as the universal standard for robot exclusion, compliance with robots.txt is strictly voluntary. In fact most web sites do not have a robots.txt file, and many web crawlers are not programmed to obey the instructions anyway. However, Alexa Internet, the company that crawls the web for the Internet Archive, does respect robots.txt instructions, and even does so retroactively. If a web site owner decides he / she prefers not to have a web crawler visiting his / her files and sets up robots.txt on the site, the Alexa crawlers will stop visiting those files and will make unavailable all files previously gathered from that site. This means that sometimes, while using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, you may find a site that is unavailable due to robots.txt (you will see a "robots.txt query exclusion error" message). Sometimes a web site owner will contact us directly and ask us to stop crawling or archiving a site, and we endevor to comply with these requests. When you come accross a "blocked site error" message, that means that a siteowner has made such a request and it has been honored."

The ability of a city government to automatically remove its public records history from the Internet Archive appears to be inconsistent with the Internet Archives policy to oppose censorship by government:

"Archivists will exercise best-efforts compliance with applicable court orders. Beyond that, as noted in the Library Bill of Rights, Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment."

My experience has been mixed in replicating searches at google.com and yahoo.com that returned relevant responses in early August 2007 for archival documents from Palo Alto's prior website. Those sites access to archival data on Palo Alto's website may have been blocked, at least in part, for some time.

The ability to rapidly change what is and what is not available opens the possibility that some information that is now not available may be made temporarily available to give the impression that the City is once again providing unfiltered access to its public record on the Internet.

Those of you who believe that only a technical fix will solve the problems with the new web site are missing something more important that is codified in California's Public Records Act and California's open meeting law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act:

Blocking access to Palo Alto government records formerly accessible from the Internet Archive and other sites is in conflict with the Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act.

In the Public Records Act, the California Legislature declared that "access to nformation concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."

In the Brown Act, the California Legislature declared that "The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

City staff's belief that it is entitled to block public access to public records apparently is not limited to the general act of blocking access to over 50,000 archival pages formerly available at the Internet Archive, but to choosing which of the pages that were available on the former website should be available on the new website, and how long new pages should stay available on the new web site.

The public needs access to historical public records, including environmental assessments and impact reports, staff reports, meeting minutes, and meeting agendas to be able to participate effectively in the decisions that affect the public's lives and property.

Blocking access to the Internet Archive is similar to telling citizens and newspapers they cannot collect copies of public documents, cannot give copies of documents they already have to anyone else, and cannot make public a list of the documents they already have.

The pattern of behavior of describing a web site of over 10,000 pages, then soliciting contracts for a web site of only 2,200 pages, then removing the news story about the new web site, and blocking access to accumulated historical record of Palo Alto's web site that includes Frank Benest's entire tenure as City Manager leads me to believe that the only way to ensure public access to the information the public had access to before the new web site was launched is for the Council to direct staff to make that information available.

There have been many comments by mostly anonymous people offering comforting suggestions describing why the new web site functions the way it does, blaming the contractor for the web site's problems, volunteering to work with staff to improve the web site, and even having the public, either paid or volunteering their services, make the web site better.

These comforting suggestions enable people to avoid considering an alternative explanation that might be frightening to some of you.

Since it's Halloween, I'll try to scare you by suggesting an alternative explanation for what has happened to Palo Alto's web site.

Maybe the new web site has been deliberately designed at City Manager Frank Benest's direction to eliminate 80% of the information that was available on the old web site, permit newly posted information to be automatically deleted after a short period of time, block access to sites that archive information, block access to already archived web pages that document Benest's entire tenure as City Manager, and block access to already archived web pages that preceded Benest's appointment.

I hope that the Internet Archive has back-up copies of the Palo Alto web pages that are no longer available to the public, and that somebody can educate the operators of the Internet Archive to restore access to those pages regardless of whether Palo Alto staff wants the public to have access.

If so, the Internet Archive can resume saving pages from the new web site.

However, I believe it will take action by the City Council to ensure that the public's business is done in public and that the public record is restored and preserved for public access.

(continue in Part 2 in next post)


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Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 31, 2007 at 8:39 pm

(Part 2 of post)

I want to share with you below what I have learned about the history of Palo Alto's web site, but I realize my comments are already lengthy and I gave myself a deadline of October 31, 2007.

If my self-imposed deadline prevents me for including anything important below, I'll try to find time to include the missing information in future posts.

When Frank Benest became City Manager he convinced the City Council that the City should sell services to other communities as a way to make money.

The 2001-2003 City Budget at page 120 has as one of its Key Plans for the Administrative Services Department: "In 2001-2003, develop and implement the Information Technology Service Provider (ITSP) initiative to provide information technology services to surrounding communities."

Four years later, in the 2005-2007 budget, as part of the City Manager's plan to cut services to fund infrastructure, the City Council approved the City Manager's proposal to eliminate five positions in the Information Technology Fund (four Senior Technologists and one of four IT Managers).

The effect of this budget cut is explained in the Information Technology Fund section of the budget on page 394 of the 2005-2007 Budget: "The bottom-line effect of the above reductions will be additional workload for staff being transitioned from back-up to primary support as well as for staff who will be taking on new back-up responsibilities. The effect on management will be an increase in direct reports and additional project management responsibilities. Due to staff reductions, it will be necessary to contract for consulting services for any enterprise application upgrades. There will potentially be increases in service delivery times until staff is sufficiently trained in their new roles and become accustomed to the increased workload."

One of the projects that was affected was the Capital Improvement Project for the Internet Site Upgrade (TE-05003) that was approved in the previous year's budget.

It may be helpful to to review the Project Description and Project Justification for the Internet Site Upgrade that appear on page 384 of the 2004-2005 Budget:

"PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The purpose of this project is to refresh, standardize, and update the City's internet website. The website was created over ten years ago and has undergone extensive expansion and growth over the years. The software tools used to build the website are to a great extent, freeware and shareware programs. This non-standard approach to developing a website of this size (currently over 10,000 pages) makes maintenance and updating extremely difficult. The proposal is to build a parallel website duplicating the functionality of the current using mainstream standardized software.

"We want to improve the ease-of-use for locating information. To this end, we are also proposing to include the functionality of a robust search engine. The purpose of including this capability is to enhance the user's ability to locate information on our website efficiently.

"PROJECT JUSTIFICATION: The City's website is in need of re-design and streamlining. This project's intent is to accomplish this goal, which will result in simplified and more effective user interaction with the site."

On page 385 of the 2004-2205 Budget, it says, "This project furthers Policy G-3 and Programs G-4, G-5, and G-6 in the Comprehensive Plan."

That Policy and those Programs appear on pages G-5 and G-6 of the Comprehensive Plan and say,

"POLICY G-3: Enhance communication between residents, organizations, and the City Council by providing access to information via electronic media and other methods."

"PROGRAM G-4: Establish a City/neighborhood liaison system using electronic and print media to inform residents of current issues and facilitate resident feedback to the City Council and staff."

"PROGRAM G-5: Create electronic bulletin boards to increase opportunities for interaction between citizens and government, including the posting of meeting agendas and other items of broad interest."

"PROGRAM G-6: Provide advanced communication opportunites for the public at City libraries."

The Future Financial Requirement of the project were approved at $240,000 for Fiscal Year 2004-2005.

When the 2005-2007 Budget cut five positions from Information Technology, the Budget continued the enterprise program of selling services to other cities.

The financial information for the Information Technology Service Provider program appears in the CPA External Services section of the Budgets for 2001-2003 (page 615), 2002-2003 (page 227), 2003-2005 (page 399), 2004-2005 (page 197), 2005-2007 (page 335), 2006-2007 (page 219), and 2007-2009 (page 329).

Except for the current year, the services provided to other cities and towns are also listed in the Budget: IT Help Desk Services and On-Site Support Services; Web Services; IT Consulting Services; Application Services; and Geographical Information System Services.

At the same time that the City has cut five staff positions in Information Technology and attempted to "refresh, standardize, and update the City's internet website", it has provided IT services under contract to Los Altos, East Palo Alto, Emeryville, Menlo Park, Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Alameda, Saratoga, and Morgan Hill.

Some of those cities and towns have website home pages with the look and feel of Palo Alto's old website whose "non-standard approach to developing a website ... makes maintenance and updating extremely difficult."

Go to any of those other cities and towns websites and try to access the same kind of information that you have tried to access from Palo Alto's new website and see which websites you like better.

With this background, the City hired a new Senior Technologist, Chris Caravalho, to oversee the planning and implementation of the new website that was already budgeted for $240,000 and that was already planned to eliminate freeware and shareware programs.

Caravalho reports to Information Technology Manager Lisa Mainarick-Bolger, who reports to Deputy Director of Adminstrative Services and Chief Information Officer Glenn Loo, who reports to Director of Administrative Services Carl Yeats, who reports to City Manager Frank Benest, who reports to the City Council, who are elected by the voters.

I mention the chain of command, because in some bureaucratic organizations there is a tendency to blame the lowest ranking employee whenever there is a public relations problem.

In early August 2007, when the new website was first released, I was able to search for related information on the Internet, some of which is no longer available.

One of my searches was for "Caravalho" and "Palo Alto", and the search returned the following relevant information, including five bulleted paragraph explaining why Caravalho believed he was the only Senior Technologist who could do the job he did for the City.

Unfortunately, the five bulleted paragraphs were blacked out on the web page I retrieved as if somebody had censored them, so I simply copied the page to WordPad, and by magic the blacked out paragraphs appeared.

My repeated copying and pasting from one document to another has led to some incompatible encoding problems; I have copy edited the text below to eliminate extraneous special characters that were not in the original I first copied. I hope my clean-up work doesn't make a mess of things when you receive this.

[The web page I located (Web Link) has since been removed from the web, but I retained the copy that appears below.]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

I currently am employed as a Senior Technologist for the City of Palo Alto.

You may be wondering how I got this precious job. Let me tell you, it
wasn't easy. A committee of ten City employees interviewed me twice for the position. The interviews were in an oral examination format.

A number of the individuals on the committee were highly technical, and at least one is a talented PR manager. This was a tough position to take. I later found out that IT layoffs were around the corner and that my position was so specialized that none of the staff who would later be laid-off could have filled it. No pressure...

For the last year, my primary responsibility has been the planning and
implementation of Capital Improvement Project TE-05003 (Internet Site
Upgrade). This project involves the redesign of the City of Palo Alto's web site. The project budget (external costs) is in the $200,000 range.

When I came on board, the scope of this project was up to me. Due to the long-term vacancy of my position, only the most rudimentary web site administration had been performed over the last 2 years. The City wanted to identify a content management system (CMS) vendor to fulfill this task. I assessed the problem and suggested a shift in the strategy to complete the CIP. Rather than look for one do-it-all CMS, I thought we should look for both a CMS vendor and a graphic designer. We wrote an Request for Proposal (RFP) to do just this.

The writing of the RFP required a special kind of deep domain knowledge.

The City had experienced life with a both a traditional webmaster
(centralized management) and no webmaster (de-centralized management), and was not fully satisfied with either approach. The traditional model seemed to bottleneck at the webmaster and choked content creation, while the de-centralized model produced unacceptable chaos in the form of bad design, stale content and hundreds of broken links. Utilizing my experience as both an IT Director (SleepQuest, Inc.) and Consultant (RDCinteractive, LLC), as
well as seven years of rapid web page development in a production
environment. I produced several models upon which I was able to base a
proposed solution to this problem. The models ranged from physical site maps, to conceptual taxonomies. Some of the models focused on the scope of work, and others on a business analysis of how the workflow operated. A unique solution to the City's information architecture was also rendered.

Using these models, City staff was able to visualize and agree upon the scope of the problem and the impact of various decisions. The way was clear to move forward.

The question was asked of me, recently, "Couldn't another of the Senior Techs have done what you did?" I don't believe so, and here's why:

This was not a new problem, it had plagued the City for years. The
problem was urgent and important, so much so that it drew the attention of City Council and was deemed a Capital Improvement Project (like streetimprovements). If existing staff was capable of solving this problem, they would have done so, especially after funding was allocated by the CIP.


This was a multi-dimensional problem. The solution had to contain not
only the technical answer, but also satisfy business logic and politics. Departmental branding issues were perceived as a major roadblock. Only someone who was expert in web administration, production, information architecture, project management, and application development could see the entirety of the problem. Furthermore, this individual had to possess leadership qualities and have the desire to evangelize the new project to the Org. These requirements greatly narrowed the scope of potential candidates for this position.


The proposed solution required enormous resources to prepare. Every one of the 2200 web pages had to be physically touched. Most of the web pages needed to be fixed and moved. Had a novice staff member attempted this task, it would have taken months to complete (if ever). My production background brought numerous efficiencies to the table that allowed the task to be completed successfully in mere weeks.


Vendor selection required deep domain expertise. Prior to my arrival, the preliminary RFP called for the selection of a CMS vendor, and nothing more. By asking for both CMS and Graphic Design vendors, I created an opportunity for the City to specify additional requirements, reducing our exposure to catastrophe. These additional requirements were based of knowledge derived from the examination of physical and conceptional models that the CIty did not have prior to my recruitment. Additionally, my background as a vendor brought insight to the RFP committee in terms each vendor's ability to deliver what was promised.


During the six month RFP process, it was necessary for me to also maintain the existing web site, hosted on BSD Unix, much of which was hacked perl scripts, an "autonomous world of shareware," the legacy of the previous webmaster. Also, the existing web server was suffering from age-related problems, and the Server Administrator needed the help of a Webmaster with knowledge of TCP-IP, DNS, Apache Config, FTP and UNIX, to migrate the site to a new web server. The City standard is Windows, so only a few on Staff
are familiar with *NIX administration. My background in systems
administration allowed IT to seamlessly transition the web site to a new BSD
server without affecting the customer's quality of service during the
transition.

In preparation for the interviews with the City, I not only brought the
requisite resume, I prepared a report entitled, "Managing Organizational
Change with Information Technology - The Application of Japanese Business
Innovation Dynamics to Government Information Technology Project Management
and Knowledge Creation." This bound report condensed research from
numerous authoritative sources about how to create knowledge chains, as well
as examples, and introduced my own knowledge management philosophies. I
reasoned that every candidate would be somewhat qualified for the position,
and sought to differentiate myself. I distributed this report to the
committee at the end of the first interview. This tactic was successful
because it demonstrated a) critical thinking, b) writing skills, c)
knowledgeability, and d) salesmanship. Combined with my genuine desire to
take the position, and my background experience, this approach was
sufficient to obtain employment with the City of Palo Alto.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Noah
a resident of University South
on Oct 31, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Herb,
Assuming this is all honest and correct, did it ever cross your mind or those in your department to ask the community for feedback?

I'm not trying to blame you or any individual :) However, had you or others sought feedback on such a public facing project, I suspect the community would be much happier now.

Given where we are today, can you please tell us how we can get a digital copy of the old website? This is required per California State Law, in the form of sunshine laws & the brown act. What's the worst that happens? People like me may be too busy at our private sector jobs to make much of that data, however just maybe we'll contribute something back to both you and the rest of the community.

My favored solution:
1. The City of Palo Alto to provide the old website in it's entirety (even if that means raw perl scripts and proprietary data formats - that's ok, many of us including me are used to that).
2. The public can choose whether or not to post the website elsewhere in it's entirety, and as part of an open effort can port various sections of the website to technologies of it's choosing.
3. Ideally, in my opinion, this would involve importing the contents to either a fully or semi open (registration required to edit) Wiki, allowing anyone including city staff to update the site.

I hear your issues with interest, but honestly, consider who the most important stakeholders are. I'm sure there are lots of politics at city-hall, but opening up this data, as required by law, should not be feared by the city administrators.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2007 at 9:33 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Herb, that is a facinating post and thank you for the time and obvious thought that went into it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 10:41 pm

Thanks, Herb - nice piece of work...

"The contracts make clear that it is Creativewerks that was responsible for the web site and that Civica was merely providing the coding for the web site Creativewerks designed."

and

"Task 5 of Creativewerks contract's scope of services at page 28 of 30 of the attachment to the staff report says, "Creativewerks shall conduct usability testing to address any user issues with the new design.""

Obviously, Creativeverks did not test the finished product to deal with "user issues".

Bingo! Sue Creativeverks.

"Pixelpushers, Inc., and its subsidiary Civica don't include Palo Alto's web site in their gallery of web sites, but do include web sites of 40 other government agencies, one of which is not available because it is being reconstructed."

Might this be that Creativeverks contracted agreement to test hte website for full functionality was not done appropriately, or not done at all - helping to result in the mess we have today (again, I'm not excusing shared culpability - but this is important to note)?

All that said, I find Herb Borock's findings somewhat disturbing, in that the Brown Act may have been violated. Whether the Brown Act - if it has indeed been violated - was violated *intentionally*, is another question altogether.

Could it be that the code was deployed

What I want to know is how much it would have cost the city to restore 50,000 pages of archived information. No matter the cost, this should have been done, for all the reasons that Herb brings forward. Here's another example of what happens when operational costs are moved around to accomodate ever-shrinking budgets.

Here, from Herb's post above, we see a compromise made to accomodate one of these budget shifts...I've starred the part that bears noting
" "The bottom-line effect of the above reductions will be additional workload for staff being transitioned from back-up to primary support as well as for staff who will be taking on new back-up responsibilities. The effect on management will be an increase in direct reports and additional project management responsibilities. ****Due to staff reductions, it will be necessary to contract for consulting services for any enterprise application upgrades***"

So, the very *reason* we had to hire consultants, was because we had to shift funds to infrastructure. This gives a view about how very constrained operations are within the city, and the tremendous constraints that management operates under.

Further, note Caravalho's comment:
"When I came on board, the scope of this project was up to me. Due to the long-term vacancy of my position, only the most rudimentary web site administration had been performed over the last 2 years."

We were outsourcing support, and "robbing Peter to pay Paul" - another example of the pressure to leverage inside resources, at the cost of inside efficiencies.

Altogether, this seems a story that's more about strained efficiencies, than incompetence. There *were* judgement errors, but some of them appear to be coming from an attempt to leverage resources in a highly constrained environment, that's supposed to operate in a glass bowl.

No wonder it's hard to find dedicated, quality people for government work.

In sum, Herb's summaries add the Brown Act wrinkle, but there's no proof of intention (although the Brown Act doesn't excuse ignorance of intention). That could be a problem, but Ii would hesitate to attribute motive until 1) the fine details of deploying crawlers is looked further into, because IT personnel may have mainly been trying to prevent email addressed form getting crawled by spambots; and 2) there may still be a place where all archived information exists, but is yet to be placed for access.

Bottom line: the website is a mess...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 10:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2007 at 11:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2007 at 9:42 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2007 at 11:56 am

I wonder why the Weekly edited out the part where I expressed concern that someone posting what was intended as a city employee's *private* communication within the context of casting aspersions on city government, And, my further query about how such a posting very well might comprise an assumption of guilt by association, thus causing unwarranted damage to the reputation of the employee in question - thus esposing the poster libel.

This is a legitimate concern, since everyone here is so concerned about every twitch on the trigger of law, shouldn't we be consistent in our concerns?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2007 at 11:59 am

I wonder why the Weekly edited out the part where I expressed concern that someone posting what was intended as a city employee's *private* communication within the context of casting aspersions on city government, And, my further query about how such a posting very well might comprise an assumption of guilt by association, thus causing unwarranted damage to the reputation of the employee in question - thus exposing the *poster* to libel.

This is a legitimate concern, since everyone here is so concerned about every twitch on the trigger of law, shouldn't we be consistent in our concerns?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Good One
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I was just on the RWC Library's website. I thouht in light of the PA website debauchle, it was cool to see that they made a change based on the user input...

See link: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by X City Staffer
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:20 pm


The controversy over the new City of Palo Alto website has been entertaining to follow. Lot's of finger pointing and blaming for a product that everyone seems to dislike. The controversy got me thinking about how this new website was probably developed.

My experiences as a former Palo Alto employee lead me to think that something along the following lines took place.

First of all someone years ago probably figured that the website was outdated, that's when the Palo Alto process kicked in. A 'consensus' was arrived at that a new website was needed, note I didn't say "decision", then a committee of department heads was formed to find a project manager. Poor Lisa Mainarick got tagged with the job. That's when the process really kicked in, I would guess that there were probably a dozen focus groups set up to study what the city needed. Then there were at least a half dozen or so public meetings to get input and find out what the citizens wanted. Once all of these meetings were held a consultant was hired after an exhausting search for one that had experience dealing with dozens of differing opinions. The consultant then probably interviewed all the department heads and council members to get their input. Once all these info gathering exercises were complete the consultant put together a proposed website.

The proposed website was then taken back out to the focus groups, public meetings, department heads and council members. After considerable screaming and yelling and lots of changes the result is what we have for a new website. I can pretty much guarantee that each council member and each department head has something uniquely their own in the final site. With all the interviews, meetings and revisions, you can see why the site cost so much.

Someone once said that a "camel is the result of a race horse being designed by committee" and what we have for a website looks a lot like a "camel".

A note on "decisions" by the city staff, there are no independent decisions, everything is vetted through Human Resources and the Legal departments. Also any City decisions are like mating elephants, all are made at a high level, with lots of screaming, yelling and trumpeting and it takes a minimum of two years for results.

I find it odd that so many people are pointing fingers about this website when the people of Palo Alto are the ones who allow this type of process to happen. This appears to have been another effort to make everyone happy that in fact makes no one happy. We put up with this by electing the council people and by forcing the staff to listen to and address each and every little concern or complaint made. We insist on having our input heard even though it adds time and expense. I'm not saying this is wrong, just don't complain about what we get.

We may not have gotten a "race horse" but we have a great looking "Camel".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OutsideObserver
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:10 am

X City Staffer:

Given its appalling lack of real-world use-ability, I'd have to say your city's website looks more like it was actually designed and constructed (not just merely vetted) by the HR and legal departments!

And what's really interesting to me is that no one in any official capacity has the conjones to stand up and admit that you have a camel of a website - they keep on insisting that it's a race horse!

The Emperor truly has no clothes in PA.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cant find
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 8, 2007 at 10:05 am

The Emperor has no clothes is right.
Difficult for a citizen to find out exactly why, though Mr. Borock does a great service to the community with his good work.
The newspapers should be working on this story, how else can we find out how this major disaster was allowed to become a public disgrace. I don't know if either newspaper has the guts or the smarts it would take, to look into it.
For starters, what happened to the old site? Did they save it or destroy it?


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