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Does anyone know a website builder in Birmingham?

August 23, 2010

Does anyone know a website builder in Birmingham?

We ask that question in jest, but the City of Birmingham apparently is unaware of the many fine firms and designers and programmers in town who do this. For a living.

We don’t normally talk politics here, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the city council and the mayor are at odds over who controls the flow of information on the City of Birmingham’s official website. As a solution, the council wants to spend $8,900 to build a separate site for its members.

The council’s proposed contract is $8,900 with Civic Plus, a Kansas-based company that would host, manage and maintain the council’s website.

“The city of Birmingham’s website presence right now is horrible, in particular the City Council’s website,” council member Johnathan Austin said. “My background is in technology. I consult with businesses and school systems all over the country and help guide them in the best way to technology.”

That’s right, Kansas.

  1. Who built the city’s current site? It’s not clear from the website. See update below.
  2. Can that site be expanded to facilitate the council’s needs? And without supposed interference from the mayor’s office?
  3. Was the contract bid out? Or was it handed to someone?
  4. What does it say to Birmingham businesses who pay taxes and choose to be here that the city wants to use an outside firm?

We invite any Birmingham-area website firm or designer to leave a comment below with your name, URL, e-mail, phone number and any other info about your services. Once we have a list, we’ll be happy to show this to city leaders to demonstrate the talent within our back yard.

Update: A tipster let me know that Birmingham firm MBI created the current version of the city’s website. So the fifth question would be: Why isn’t the council using this firm, too?

Update No. 2: After speaking with city council member Valerie Abbott, I learned that the public affairs committee did issue a Request for Proposal, with several Birmingham-area firms participating. Abbott said CivicPlus in Kansas had the best proposal by far.

Update April 2, 2012: It took nearly 2 years. Here’s what CivicPlus designed: birminghamalcitycouncil.org.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2010 12:00 pm

    Bottom-line, I could honestly care less if another web firm besides mine got the work, but to look outside the city just goes to show how out-of-touch with Birmingham the “leaders” are.

    • August 23, 2010 3:13 pm

      My main concern is the message those leaders send to the local business community: “We have no faith in local Web experts and will spend our money elsewhere.” That makes my job unnecessarily more difficult.

  2. August 23, 2010 4:44 pm

    I’m not necessarily opposed to having an out-of-state operation get this business. CivicPlus (the vendor proposing the new site) has a CMS platform built out especially for local governments. As a citizen, I want to see the city use its resources wisely; if CivicPlus’ product is a better value than a (literally) homegrown site then I’d rather see them implement.

    For me, this story (http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2010/08/jefferson_may_axe_financial_so.html) is a bigger issue. This is an SAP implementation that got farmed out to a VA-based consulting firm. While we don’t do SAP here at Intermark, I know there are a number of firms in the area that could have handled this. Of course, that assumes SAP was even a good fit for the county.

    • August 23, 2010 4:59 pm

      I should also state that I’m not sold on the idea that the council needs their own, separate website.

  3. Kenn permalink
    August 23, 2010 4:56 pm

    For that matter, they could easily implement a skinned WordPress blog for next to nothing (or even nothing, if they went with an open-source theme). More money to – oh, I don’t know. Maybe finish paving the streets?

  4. Jeremy permalink
    August 23, 2010 5:10 pm

    Hmm, no takers on working with the city yet? What could go wrong there? ;-)

    • August 24, 2010 11:24 am

      Jeremy, I think we both know how that would go…from experience.

  5. August 23, 2010 5:18 pm

    It is sad to see something like this farmed out of state. I could see this not going outside the city but not out of state. There are at least 10 web groups local and several are located in the downtown area. While the group out of Kanas focuses on Civic site, I think that Birmingham missed out on getting some good will to local tech firms located in the city.

  6. August 23, 2010 8:27 pm

    I updated the post to reflect that an RFP did occur. It’s still not clear what the council needs in terms of site features.

    I did want to offer the opportunity here for Birmingham firms to at least check in and say hello. I know people at most of the digital shops and want others to know the good work they do. If they don’t tout themselves, who will?

  7. August 23, 2010 9:04 pm

    Just found your site and love reading all the comments.

  8. August 23, 2010 9:29 pm

    Okay, this may cost me my head, but here goes. Back in 1999, when Bernard Kincaid was elected to his first term of office, he appointed me to create a presence for the city on the Internet. My official title was, Technology Liaison.” My first week on the job was spent getting MAC from IT people who had only worked with Windows machines. The Arrington/Bell regime left the IT Dept. in dire straights. They were still operating on an old mainframe from 1978 when I arrived on the scene, and it was frightening. If the city had undergone a natural disaster or catastrophe, it would have been a nightmare. Anyway, I digress…

    The second week I was on board, I was introduced to the Web Master, who happened to be a she, so Web Mistress. Her name was April Odum and her office was located in a small corner cube at The Linn Henley Research Libary. She also ran a cleaning business with her husband and would mysteriously disappear for hours on-end at odd times during the day. She looked me up and down and evidently was greatly offended that I had been hired to do a job that she was already doing. She raised some hell with Chief of Staff Al Herbert and before I could say, “But wait, we can work together to make this site great!” Al had sold me down the river. The web site was no longer going to be my responsibility. She had threatened to sue. It seems she didn’t like the fact that I caught her leaving work all the time and that the city web site contents were saved on a ZIP disk that she left at home most of the time. Nothing has been backed-up. It was like a bad movie; are you getting this?

    You think that the web site is lame now? You should have seen it then. Some clip-art and a long table with text links in tetra blue. My office was on the third floor of city hall, near Mark Kelly’s who was the Public Information Director. I was teaching graphic design at UAB at the time as well, only a couple of courses, but after about three years I decided that I would step down from the Mayor’s Office as Technology Liaison.

    April Odum has moved up the ladder and is now at City Hall. Since her position is under civil service protection, she is probably going to be a fixture there for quite a while. She’s quite comfortable in her new office, which was my old one. She is responsible for the city web site, and now she works for Mayor Bell.

    In my two-cent opinion, the city web site should be maintained by someone in the IT Department. It is less heavily influenced by politics and is approachable by both the Mayor and Council.

  9. August 24, 2010 11:32 am

    We were asked to submit a RFP and after looking over the specs, declined. They were not concerned at the time with updating any hardware or software. We would have lost money just getting the backend straightened out to work with their current systems.

    Interesting that whenever you try to go to the firm that built the site that Wade quoted, there’s a server error. Typical.

  10. August 25, 2010 8:34 am

    Based off what Stacey said, I would not be shocked if this firm in Kansas fails to come through on time or budget. The entire project from the start looks to be a disaster.

  11. August 25, 2010 12:44 pm

    We were shocked that the City would send the message that there is not enough web talent in Birmingham. In my opinion, this is exactly the message that is being sent. We actually offered to do the website for free and were told that the decision has probably already been made to move forward with the firm out of Kansas. We offered this only to give back to Birmingham — A city we love and call home. I am still scratching my head over this one ……

  12. August 26, 2010 6:12 am

    As Chase said above, we offered to do the site pro bono to keep it at home. He and I discussed it and felt it would be better to do it on our dime and keep the work here in town using the local talent we employ than to see the city send our tax dollars to Kansas. As a business owner, it is hard to understand the logic behind these decisions sometimes. I can pretty much guarantee that if the city stepped up and made a commitment to use local firms whenever possible, they would be pleasantly surprised at the results.

  13. August 26, 2010 2:01 pm

    Yet another reason why I am glad I left Alabama. I wouldn’t touch that site for less than $20k. My guess is, every council member had a pick on what the homepage would look like cause it has over 100 links with no direction as to where to go, it is not SEO friendly, there are links in the actual navigation that lead you away from the site, the code is ugly, it has session controls for pages that don’t need it, etc .

    You get what you pay for. And at $8k, I’m sure that’s exactly what they will get. Think about it. At that price, how many hands will touch the project before they begin to loose money.

  14. August 29, 2010 6:12 pm

    I absolutely believe the City of Birmingham should first consult with web developers in the Greater Birmingham area.

    Communicate the RFP to the local firms. If locals don’t know about the RFP, they can’t submit proposals.

    If local talent isn’t as good, or isn’t as cost-effective, then look far and wide. But don’t go that route until local talent has proven insufficient.

    My guess is that there’s a communication problem. Maybe the local firms don’t have the inside scoop on writing a proposal that meets the City’s project parameters. Maybe local firms have given up, in light of the City’s historical tendency to do handshake (or inside) deals with cronies. Not saying the current City officials operate this way, but it’s an issue to consider.

    I don’t understand choosing Kansas over local tech/design firms. Makes zero sense, economically and politically.

    On somewhat unrelated note: I’ve heard plenty of tales about bids submitted for DoD projects where the winning bid is based on intentionally lowballing the costs with the knowledge that once the bid is locked in, the DoD will revise the terms due to “changed circumstances.”

  15. Mike permalink
    March 28, 2011 5:36 pm

    I have to say that I’m a little bit surprised that there were offers to do the website pro bono. In my experience, the pro bono work creates incredible hurdles to overcome in the market once the precedent has been established. Then, if the agency farms any of the creative work out like video or photography, these local artisans are asked to perform work at a very low or no budget. It just creates a depressed industry in my estimation and does nothing to really support local business.

    • March 29, 2011 8:01 am

      Mike, I totally understand your point. However, we offer all of those services in-house and we do not need to farm any of the creative work whatsoever. No one would be asked to work for reduced rates or for nothing. All of our employees want to see the city thrive and grow and we, as a company, continually make a concerted effort to give back as much as possible. We (collectively) wanted to make the offer and that’s why we did it.

      • Mike permalink
        March 30, 2011 3:15 pm

        Scott,

        As with all business decisions, that is your prerogative. But, I’m at total odds with the logic of offering to do work for free, especially for a government entity that has the budget and is intending on paying for it. If you received an RFP for a major website and your competitor decided that in order to keep it in their territory they would offer their services for free. If they are capable of delivering the product, then you essentially got beat out by someone willing to take a dive to say they worked on that project and helped keep their community’s industry thriving.

        I came from 7 years of specialty product sales. Not once did the manufacturer that I represented tell me to bid $0 per item just so they could help out the local economy. Now that I’ve spent 10 years in the freelance creative world trying to make it and provide for my family , I’ve got companies out there willing to do the work in-house and pro bono – trying to undercut legitimate bids just to keep it in your backyard. Honestly, it kind of pisses me off. I could understand if it was a non-profit organization that is doing good in the community. I’ve done that kind of work pro bono before, and I’ll do it again. But, out of respect for all of my fellow creatives that need to feed themselves and their families, I will not do a job for free when competitive bids are being submitted or when someone stands to make money off of my creativity. Business doesn’t work like that. Charity does. And if I’m right, your business and mine is not listed as a charitable organization.

        Look, we can all sing “Kumbaya” in the name of our community. And I truly hate that I feel such a hard line is needed. But, honestly, your collective offer to do business for the city pro bono is the perfect example of how an action could have unintended consequences. I’m not specifically in your line of business, but my creative services could contribute to the whole project if someone local that actually bid a price got the job. Then, if I networked with them successfully, I could get a portion of that project. Sub-contracting is as viable as a one-stop shop. So, effectively, your offer could have undercut everyone else that bid on it, from Birmingham or where ever, and not allowed the supporting industries a shot at sub-contracting the work from you. Yes, you have in-house services, but with an actual budget, you might allocate resources differently and hire freelance talent.

        Plus, if you got the job and you did it in-house, lord knows what kind of nightmare you might have conjured up for your company.

        Just sayin….

  16. March 30, 2011 3:28 pm

    Cool enough. We obviously have differing opinions on this and I could spend as much time as you did on a reply and never change your mind (like you haven’t changed mine) so I’ll just let this discussion stand right here. Good luck to you and I wish you well.

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