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COUNCIL WEB DEAL ‘STILL IN DISCUSSION’

BoroughwebsiteThe homepage of the borough website.

The Red Bank government's plan to hire web design and management firm C3 Citizen Communication Center for $2,000 a month appears to be in slow-download mode following a second round of criticism.

At the borough council's bimonthly meeting last night, information technology specialist Jim Willis of Harrison Avenue characterized the model used by C3 as a "roach motel for data," in which information such as council agendas is entered but can't be shared across new technologies, such as Google calendar and news sources such as redbankgreen.

[Disclosure: Willis provides tech services to redbankgreen and its companion site, Red Bank oRBit.]

Willis said the deal would also shackle the borough to a vendor for the term of a contract and force it to build its website anew if the contract isn't extended.

"Proprietary software is synonymous with vendor lock-in," Willis said. Under the proposed deal, the borough wouldn't own the software but have a license to use it, and "if the borough wants to change vendors in the future, we will be right back where we are today, except we'll be tens of thousands of dollars poorer."

No one from C3 was present at last night's session. C3 provides web management services for Fair Haven and Middletown.

At her final appearance as a borough councilmember last month, Republican Grace Cangemi excoriated the C3 deal as the product of talks that she had not been party to or aware of, even though she was a member of the education and technology committee that was making the recommendation.

Willis, too, noted that C3 "was chosen in a closed process, without a formal request for proposals" from competing vendors. Borough officials said the job was exempt from bidding requirements, and cited the fact that C3 principal John Carino has a patent on web-based citizen email alerts as a reason to go with his firm.

Willis didn't address the alert system component, but focused on what he views as the pluses of open source software over licensed proprietary technology such as C3's.

The idea of open source software that can be shared by users without violating license agreements is gaining traction at the federal and state level, he said.

Willis questioned why New Jersey's 566 municipalities should pay for the same software over and over again "when it could be built once and shared among those municipalities at no cost other than the initial development cost."

"This line of questioning may not make sense to software developers looking to profit at the taxpayers’ expense," he said, "but it does make perfect sense to taxpayers."

In response, Mayor Pasquale Menna said that while the council had approved a resolution allowing the borough to enter into a contract with C3, no deal had yet been signed. He said he would review the matter and consult with borough Attorney Ken Pringle.

Councilman Art Murphy was more emphatic. "My understanding is we had a lot of questions and weren't going to execute that agreement at all," he said.

Afterward, redbankgreen asked Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, who heads the education and technology committee, if the C3 deal would be signed.

"It's still in discussion," she said.

And did she have misgivings about the way in which the deal came about?

"It's still in discussion," she repeated.

Here's the website resolution: Download 08-265.pdf

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