PORTSMOUTH — A longtime internet consultant whose company designed the town’s first website in 1998 confronted town officials Monday night about their decision to hire a non-local business for the current municipal website.
John Flanders, owner of John Flanders Internet Consulting, Inc., appeared before the Town Council Monday night to ask about the town’s bidding process as it pertains to municipal web services. Mr. Flanders said he was surprised to learn Nov. 1 that the town’s website was a product of CivicPlus, a Kansas-based company that serves over 1,600 government websites.
Mr. Flanders said the company was hired through the General Services Administration, an independent agency of the federal government which helps municipalities purchase goods and services with pre-negotiated contracts.
“When I took a look at the contract my hair stood on end,” said Mr. Flanders, noting that the three-year deal calls for the town to pay CivicPlus more than $30,000. “Over the three years we could have saved you $11,000 for the town.”
Mr. Flanders said the town should have at least given consideration to a local company. “Shop local,” he said. “We have a lot of talent in this town. When you have companies in your own town, don’t use GSA as a matter of convenience.”
Town Administrator John Klimm, who acknowledged that Mr. Flanders raised some legitimate concerns, said it’s the town’s policy to use local vendors as often as possible. In this case, however, buying a “package product” such as CivicPlus was the best solution, he said.
Mr. Klimm said he received a complaint about the town’s website on his very first day as town administrator last year, and he heard plenty more criticism after that.
“For whatever reason, we have no professional IT department. That played significantly into this,” said Mr. Klimm, adding that he sought the advice of IT professionals.
One of their recommendations for smaller communities, he said, was to consider purchasing a package product rather than “overseeing the drafting of a brand-new website.” CivicPlus’ product, he said, allows Town Hall workers to regularly update the website in rather simple fashion.
The last thing he wanted to do, he said, was to take on a project that municipal workers couldn’t oversee.
“The fact is, we simply didn’t have the capacity,” said Mr. Klimm. “I’m truly saddened that that’s the case, because a local guy who’s given a lot to his community has lost out on some money, and I’m bothered by that.”
After the meeting, Mr. Flanders sent the town administrator an e-mail stating that he was satisfied with his response.
“I completely understand that it does take a lot of someone’s time to oversee the development of a site,” Mr. Flanders stated. “I’m well aware of the amount of work that the town’s limited staff has to accomplish. I wish you the best of luck with the new site and CivicPlus.”