What needs to be changed with the City of Northfield’s web site?

nfld-website-sshot I don’t know if the City of Northfield’s 4-year old website can be easily modified (that was the plan when it was created for $85,000) but it clearly needs improvement. So maybe we can help the City by listing the problems we encounter when using the site and making suggestions for improvement. (Although I do blogsites for a living, I would decline bidding on a revamp of the City’s site, just like I declined to bid on a revamp of the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s website.) (continued)

The City of Albert Lea recently revamped their website for under $1,000 using WordPress, a full-blown content management system (CMS) that’s open source. (WordPress is the platform used here, of course, and by dozens of other Northfield-area blog sites.) See the article in the Albert Lea Tribune last week: Albert Lea government launches new Web site

“We just didn’t feel we could justify spending $20,000-plus on a Web site,” Kauffmann said. “I happened to run into Jeshua Erickson on the Pelican Breeze one day, and we talked about Web sites and how he was developing them using WordPress.” WordPress offers open-source, simple-to-use templates for Web sites for zero cost. “We found an open-source WordPress template that was for cities, and we just modified the living daylights out of it,” Erickson said. “It started as an open template, but we did a lot of changes to suit the needs they (city officials) wanted.”


  1. kiffi summa said:

    Griff : Why would you not take on the re-do of the City's website? What sort of conflict would you have in doing that?
    I think they could make use of all the expertise you have acquired by doing LG…' they' , well the new councilors at least, are all 'hot and bothered' about citizen input ; couldn't you be put to good use, besides just the architecture of the site?
    P.S. As you have often noted/complained?, they pay well!

    January 24, 2009
  2. John S. Thomas said:

    I think this is being pursued in the wrong manner, and in the wrong forum.

    If folks have issues with the City of Northfield website, they can contact Melissa Reeder at 507-645-3054, or e-mail her at melissa.reeder@ci.northfield.mn.us.

    Perhaps the city could put an online form on the Information Technology page at http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/departments/informationtechnology/

    However, collecting public input here would be the wrong methodology for this in my opinion.

    January 25, 2009
  3. kiffi summa said:

    OK Griff…… the heck with the city’s website for the moment… Please explain all the icons in the space above the comment box, or is LG only interested in having ‘techies’ comment.
    Some are self evident; some are not.

    And are those Bush’s long-lost ‘wmds’ at the far right?

    January 25, 2009
  4. Tracy Davis said:

    John, Melissa is the IT director, but as I understand it is not responsible for the maintenance or content of the City website.

    January 25, 2009
  5. Anne Bretts said:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gathering information here, although having the city ask for comments (or report the ones it has already received) would be good as well. Again, it’s important to determine whether there is a need for change and what kind of change makes sense.
    I think it would be helpful to have some examples of good city sites to use to determine what might be possible or helpful here. It’s hard to know what’s missing if you don’t know what’s possible.
    So, Griff, what do you have in mind and why and what would it cost?

    January 25, 2009
  6. Peter Millin said:

    It would be beneficial to be able to complete some city business via the web?
    Like paying bills for example.

    January 25, 2009
  7. John S. Thomas said:


    I could see that she is not directly involved with the day to day maintenance of the site, or its content, but you would think that she would have some ownership over the infrastructure or the contract for hosting. She should also be responsible for the overall IT Strategy of the city.

    THEREFORE, she should be the one to be able to take feedback on the existing site, so she can bring forward to the council citizens feedback, and request funding to implement changes.

    If Melissa is not responsible for the IT strategy and the further development/enhancement plans of the city website, then who is? If it is a non-IT person, than that explains a lot toward why the city got fleeced fore $85,000. 😎

    January 25, 2009
  8. David Koenig said:

    Sorry, Griff….I like the City’s website and think that it presents a very clean and positive look. A nice first impression for anyone looking at Northfield.

    Maybe there is some content missing, but that’s a maintenance issue, not a design issue.

    So, I can’t agree with you on this one.

    January 26, 2009
  9. I mostly agree with David. I think Northfield’s site is still quite nice, which is saying something considering its age and (to my knowledge) only one visual update. It could stand for a refresh, but I don’t think a comprehensive redevelopment is needed. Instead, what’s needed is a point person in charge of keeping the site’s content up-to-date.

    If the site were to do a total redevelopment, however, I would hope they’d end use an open-source platform like Albert Lea did. I think Albert Lea went a little too cheap with their site, and I don’t think WordPress is suitable for a site that large. Something like Drupal would work well for a city website, though.

    January 26, 2009
  10. I agree with David and Sean. The site does currently use a content management system, so updates should be fairly easy. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think it’s a custom CMS for the Northfield site.

    That being said, the site is still very functional, so I don’t think we need a redesign or another CMS at this point. We need content, which should be easy to do with the current CMS.

    January 27, 2009
  11. I also like the aesthetics of the Northfield Web site and was surprised to learn how old it was. I think the main problem with the page is structural, as far as I can tell from conversations with Melissa Reeder. More information needs to be available online and that content could be organized/archived better. The site needs to be more accessible to all staff departments so they can add content and tweak their own department’s page more easily. I also like the prospect of snazzy features like streaming video, which the template doesn’t allow for right now.

    January 27, 2009
  12. I also like the prospect of snazzy features like streaming video, which the template doesn’t allow for right now.

    Exactly why I think it would have been more prudent to go with an open-source CMS. While Livefront did a great job on this custom CMS, an open-source one would have allowed more options now that we’re a few years down the road.

    January 27, 2009
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    David K, I didn’t mean to imply the look/feel/design of the City’s website needed improvement. I do think it’s visually attractive. I probably should have been clearer.

    Here’s one annoying structural problem: overlapping pages. If you were going to link to the EDA, which URL would you use?

    Economic Development Authority


    About the EDA


    Economic Development


    Economic Development


    And more EDA confusion: they announced a domain name


    which redirects to


    If the latter is THE most important Econ Dev page, why is there zilch in the lower right corner for What’s New and Projects?

    More confusion: it seems like there should be a distinction between the EDA and the City of Northfield’s Economic Development Division


    Jody Gunderson is listed as EDA Director everywhere. I thought he was a staff liason to the EDA but head/director of the Economic Development Division… and that Rick Estenson is President of the EDA (nothing about that anywhere other than the minutes).

    This confusing overlapping of pages between ‘services’ and ‘departments’ is common: liquor store, police, library, etc.

    January 27, 2009
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News: City upgrades ED web page.

    Okay, progress!  But there is no link to the ED home page from the EDA page.

    And there are still two different URL’s for the EDA:

    And why does this page still exist?

    Whither the URL http://northfieldeda.org/ ?

    I see the City has finally quit referring to Jody Gunderson as the “EDA Director.” Now if Northfield News reporter David Henke (who’s new beat includes City Hall) would do so, it would help.

    June 29, 2009

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