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City delays website redesign again

Thursday, May 28, 2009 by Austin Monitor

City staff has recommended that the City of Austin withdraw it’s current recommendation for a new website designer, start the search over, and gather more public input. This would be the fifth Request for Proposals (RFP) for redesigning the website that the city has withdrawn in the past two years.


Matt Esquibel, who is in charge of web development for the city, gave the recommendation Wednesday to the Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunication. Doug Matthews, chief communications director, said the recommendation to develop a new Request for Proposals (RFP)—the sixth—would be on the Council’s June 18 agenda.


Council Members Randi Shade and Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken seemed to agree that the change was needed.


McCracken told Esquibel he was “headed exactly in the right direction.” He said he envisioned “using the web site as a tool for improved government …I see that embedded in the playbook for moving forward.”


The news should come as no surprise to Council watchers since several members signaled a lack of support for the previously proposed contract with Cignex Technologies, Inc. of Santa Clara, CA. The company would have been paid $704,000 to design the new site and migrate information from the current site over to the new one. On March 26, Council indefinitely postponed awarding that contract.


Activists Bill Bunch and Debbie Russell told the Committee they were frustrated by the bureaucratic delays. The city has been promising a better web site since 2005, Russell noted.


“A lot of us have been frustrated at how slow this process has been,” Bunch said. “I hope that in going back through the hoops we won’t discourage our staff from making incremental improvements,” to the current site.


One of the most important parts of the website for Bunch and the SOS Alliance is online information about development applications known as Amanda. Bunch would like Amanda amended to allow the public to comment on development proposals.


Bunch also proposed requiring applicants for development permits to file all their technical information electronically, such as transportation impact analyses and drainage plans.


Matthews said and he would expect to bring the new RFP forward by the end of July, have four to six weeks for further public input and come back to the Council for a decision in the fall. He and Esquibel stressed the point that they would take into account the public input they have already received.


One reason for the city’s change of plans was that Matthews and Chief Information Officer Gail Roper came onboard with the city in February. Their predecessors had approved the previous RFPs. But Matthews and Collins were not satisfied with the proposals and the city’s instructions to those who were trying to bid. 


Rather than telling web designers what platform to use for the project, Matthews said he would like to “let the tech community provide us with their best solution.”

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