EDA’s new economic development brochure raises questions about the City’s problematic web site

eda-brochure-spread-sshoteda-brochure-sshotRandy Jennings, Occasional Press, sent me PDFs of the new Northfield brochure that he created for the City of Northfield Economic Development Authority (EDA). 

It is intended to be used as a take-away piece when Economic Development Director, Jody Gunderson, and others meet with business folks and investors considering moving a business to or starting a business in Northfield.

It’s a classy-looking, well-done brochure (and that’s not just because he used some of my photos). I don’t know how much it cost. Anyone?

I think it would be helpful if there was a web-friendly version of the PDF posted to the City’s Doing Business in Northfield page so that anyone could download it and print it out. (The above two PDFs are print-oriented.) 

The EDA had a customized website a while back. See Ross Currier’s Jan. 2005 NDDC blog post with a screenshot. The EDA also has two domain names that it doesn’t use: northfieldeda.com and northfieldeda.org. Both redirect.  They used them for a while, as is evident in this 2007 EDA brochure.

On our radio show/podcast this week, Councilor Rhonda Pownell complained about the EDA’s web pages. We didn’t discuss it in detail but I later wondered if she knew the history of the City’s web site.

The EDA led paid for the revamping of the City’s website back in 2005.  It cost approximately $80,000+ with a big chunk of that coming from the cable TV fund. Livefront was the contractor. Here’s their 132-page July 2005 draft titled Research & Recommendations For The City of Northfield Web Site Redesign.

Within two years, the complaints about the city’s web site were mounting. See Tracy’s Sept. 2007 blog post. I’ve been whining about it ever since.

I don’t have a recommendation, but if the Council wants to improve its communications with the citizenry, it has to be part of the solution.

11 thoughts on “EDA’s new economic development brochure raises questions about the City’s problematic web site”

  1. Griff, the EDA didn’t “lead the revamping” of the website; it just paid the bill.

    I went back and re-read my Sept. 07 post you referenced; I don’t think much has changed except the elected players. I genuinely don’t understand where the obstacle lies. Is it because each department is supposed to update its own area of the website? That could explain the unevenness of the site’s usability. Maybe there needs to be a “continuing ed” policy or some remedial tech workshop for the staff if they need training. If they’re just “too busy”, then the Council needs to keep pressure on to make communicating with the public, and making information and resources available via the website, a higher priority.

  2. Their HPC just paid $4,500 to Clearsite New Media for a Faribault History web site.  Looks like they’re having trouble updating the HPC page, as they don’t even link to the new site.

    Heritage Preservation Commission Meeting Agenda

    DATE: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    TIME: 7:00 PM

    PLACE: Third Floor, City Hall, 208 NW First Avenue, Faribault, Minnesota

    Page 7



    Agenda Item: 38

    TO: Heritage Preservation Commission

    FROM: Kim Clausen, Community Development Coordinator

    MEETING DATE: November 17, 2009

    SUBJECT: Budget Report

    Purpose: This agenda item provides information on the HPC’s 2009 budget.

    Discussion: The HPC’s 2009 budget was $5,000. So far, the HPC has spent $5,449 as follows:

    Website redesign:  $4,500.00

    Website hosting and domain registration: $343.35

  3. The website problems are no more or no less than indicative of a vast array of management problems at City Hall…

    Tracy id’s one of the problems when she says the EDA didn’t lead the revamp, they just “paid the bill”. 4-5 years ago!
    The exact same problem is going on now with the EDA; the EDA board is now, by council action, paying the entire cost of the dept director’s considerable salary… But … How does the EDA Board direct the actions of that person, to say nothing of the fact that they had no say in hiring the person whose salary they are responsible for.

    This is not a personal tirade against Mr. Gunderson; as a matter of fact, I believe that the recent actions of the executive committee of the EDA (clearly functioning outside their by-laws) are in fact putting Mr. Gunderson in an untenable position. How , you may ask?
    Well, if a rogue exec committee asks a staff employee to participate in activities, meetings, discussions, which are outside the parameters for that exec committee as stated in the by-laws, I believe they are not only acting inappropriately as to their own role, but are putting undue pressure on the staff person to participate in actions which his professional expertise should tell him are improper.
    What’s his choice? go with the flow? object and challenge his job security?

    This last week has seen activities by the EDA exec committee that are so in the nature of a power grab, that if it all develops as it appears it will, it will cause a useless lot of ‘after the fact’ moaning.

    Unfortunately , once again the NFNews lets us all down, by never reporting on the controversy at the EDA.
    Contracts, letters, loan negotiations or restructures are brought to the board for approval without the proper backup documentation.
    A contract was brought to the Board some months ago for negotiations with landowners in the “NW territories” EXCEPT the problem was that they were asked to approve it without it actually being BROUGHT to the Board. The unseen contract was approved on a split vote.
    More recently, a letter written by the staff, but supposed to go out over the EDA President’s signature, caused a hailstorm of e-mails; the final result being that the President also said he could not sign as initially written.
    For the last month a situation has been brewing which would allow a council member to be elected Pres of the EDA; there have been by-laws amendments which are supposed to be approved by the council and have not been… and if the vote on that election occurs this week, it will be difficult to correct. to say nothing of ‘illegal’.

    Where is the League of Women Voters when these procedural questions arise?

    Why does the Exec committee not follow its own by laws? and why does one member of that group who is always touting “team work” not understand the meaning of that phrase?
    Why does the exec committee include the staff person in these meetings? Another clear violation…

    When is Northfield going to be able to deal with its problems like adults… by addressing problems with policy discussion early on… rather than being embarrassed by the ‘hard question’?

    Tracy clued you in to the basic dysfunction in her first comment, but that problem was not dealt with then, and in the ensuing 5 years successive problems have been mounting, and not being dealt with either…
    Remember that there are two council members on the EDA that vote; are they in jeopardy? they obviously don’t think so , if you listen to what they say and watch their actions.

    There has been such concern that civility be restored to City Hall; are we all so concerned about civility that legality goes by the wayside?

    Look at your tax bills; the EDA has a taxing authority/levy.
    Do you want such an entity to be functioning outside their own by-laws?

  4. For the record, Livefront also built the separate EDA website that existed pre-2005 before the current city website was built. The city paid me personally somewhere in the range of $23 million dollars for that EDA site. It was a nice site, though. Lots of nice colors and pretty pictures.

    Of course the city website is easy to update (and, yes, the fine folks in Faribault can easily edit their HPC page if they want to!). It is important to understand that “Content Management” is NOT primarily a technology problem. The tech is in place. Content Management is a people/organization problem and even more-so an editorial process problem. For more details on what I mean, and why this is important, read what I wrote ~5 years ago on page 14-16 in the consulting report Griff so kindly linked to above.

    Mike
    CEO, Livefront

  5. I agree with Mike – the problems experienced with the City’s website is more one of management, not the back-end technology.

    Actually it’s pretty amazing that the container has held up as well as it has, given all the changes brought about by web 2.0. I wouldn’t be in favor of spending much of anything for technical updates until I was convinced that the City has changed its way of managing the content.

  6. Tracy: could you please comment on HOW the city should “manage ” its content?
    Is it fair to say that with an IT department head, and a very skilled asst, (are there more in that dept) that content ‘management’ should be attainable… or is the problem one of policy which doesn’t allow for enough input without ‘control’ of content, and is therefor not ‘working’.

  7. Kiffi, as I have seen it, the most efficient solution to the problem would be for the City to have a designated webmaster who takes on the responsibility of keeping information updated, and (in an ideal world) would bug the other staff members mercilessly until they received the information necessary for posting.

    My understanding of Melissa Reeder’s background is that she has developed expertise in networking technology, hardware, and data storage and retrieval, and it was in that capacity that she was hired for IT. Managing the architecture and content on a website is a completely different skillset.

    1. Tracy, until someone actually shows me how hard/easy it is to update the content on the city’s site, I disagree with you. Mike Bollinger says he built the site so that non-technical people can update it.

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