Businessman cries foul over Portsmouth’s website

The Town of Portsmouth's website is designed by CivicPlus, a company out of Kansas. The Town of Portsmouth's website is designed by CivicPlus, a company out of Kansas.

The Town of Portsmouth's website is designed by CivicPlus, a company out of Kansas.

The Town of Portsmouth’s website is designed by CivicPlus, a company out of Kansas.

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.”

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One Comment;

  1. John Flanders said:

    I would like to clarify that John Flanders Internet Consulting, was not the designer of Portsmouth’s present web site that has received complaints from Mr. Klimm since the first day at his job. My company wrote Portsmouth’s original web site in 1998, and that site was replaced in by the town in 2004 with a state provided, pre-designed site. Since then, I have only hosted the site — provided it with a place to live.

    Portsmouth Town administrator Klimm conveniently left this point out of his remarks when he described why he decided to disqualify local and state businesses from the opportunity to bid on the new website project, and instead chose to spend at least $11,000 more than needed by giving the work to an out of state company. Mr. Klimm indicated that the town does not have IT staff to oversee such a project; however, with more than $11000 saved, the town could have retained a qualified IT consultant to oversee the project. Further, while Mr. Klimm notes that the town does not have an IT professional on staff, the Portsmouth school system reportedly has 12 IT personnel. Could Mr. Klimm have asked the school system to oversee such a project, or even develop the project completely?

    Although Mr. Klimm’s eloquent and well prepared CYA and PCC driven statement made sense, he impugned my work and impugned me personally. He referred to complaints he has received about Portsmouth’s substandard website. Only through the hard work and dedication of Barbara Ripa, secretary to the administrator, with no web experience, did the site work at all. I have regularly provided Ms. Ripa with free help whenever she has needed it. Mr. Klimm could have made clear that I had no hand in the design or development of the site that received his disdain, but he did not.

    Mr. Klimm implied that my appearance at the council meeting was to complain because I did not get the work. THIS IS NOT SO. I prefaced my remarks saying, as a taxpayer and as a long standing Portsmouth business, that I was concerned that the town administrator would so carelessly send significant work to businesses located out of state which, in the long run, will cost the taxpayers a significantly larger sum of money than had they chosen a local or even in-state business. My comments and concerns were solely directed at Mr. Klimm’s apparent disconnect from our tight knit local community, where people know their neighbors and look after one another, This disconnect, thus far, has been the hallmark of his term as administrator.

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