From the Jan. 6, 2010 issue:
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Trinidad residents are wondering why their city’s new website is not yet fully functional, eight months after a contract was signed with a website developer.
They are also wondering why the city manager chose a person of apparently limited experience to build the city’s site, why the choice of developer or the contract never appeared before the City Council, and why the city manager may have exceeded his budget to hire the developer.
Nearly all local cities have adequate websites that provide their residents with information about the city’s activities, policies, and issues. Some allow residents to take care of city business online.
Even the smallest local cities, such as Blue Lake (bluelake.ca.gov) and Ferndale (ci.ferndale.ca.us) were able to build functional websites for only a couple of thousand dollars each.
Trinidad’s website, http://www.trinidad.ca.gov on the other hand, has been limping along as a work-in-progress for several months. For most of that time, even the most rudimentary information, such as the names of the city councilmembers, could not be found on it.
Oddly enough, the city took down a functional website built by a different consultant to replace it with the current one.
Over the past two weeks, when the McKinleyville Press began investigating this issue, remarkable progress has been made on the site. Some basic information has been added, the aesthetics have improved, and some amateurishly broken links were repaired.
But the city still has a long way to go, and residents are wondering just what the problem is.
Unlike other cities’ websites, the Trinidad website no longer contains the records of prior council, planning commission, and committee meetings. This material was posted on the previous website, but is no longer available.
Trinidad’s decades-old original General Plan is on the site, but not the current draft updates, even though the city says it is actively seeking input from the public on this material.
A proposed change in water rates is being considered by the city council. That material is supposed to be on the website, but has never been posted.
Reports, paid for with taxpayer’s money, that used to be online have vanished. General Plan update documents, information about business licenses, and zoning ordinances cannot be found on the site.
Trinidad resident Kim Tays said that she used to rely on the city’s website to follow and understand public affairs, but has found the new site to be useless.
“All of the important documents from past meetings are missing,” she said, referring to the new website. “All of the documents that used to be on the City’s website about controversial issues…. are gone.” In February, 2009, City Manager Steve Albright told the council that he was looking for a company to design a new website for the city. Although Humboldt County and cyberspace in general are swarming with web designers, there are no records showing that the city ever advertised for the services of a professional designer.
At the April 8 City Council meeting, during the course of a routine staff report, Albright said that he had found the right person to do the job.
A vaguely worded contract, lacking even a completion date, was signed on April 14 between David Peake and Albright, in which Peake promised to develop the site in exchange for the rock-bottom price of $1,500.
Peake, a member of the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce, owns and manages local vacation rental properties. Peake told the Press that he had built “dozens of websites” but declined to name any of them.
The website advertising his business, http://www.davidpeakedesigns.com was launched on March 10th, four days after he made an initial proposal to the city.
Most developers use their websites to display their finest work, but Peake’s website is almost devoid of content, showing only the name of his company and a logo on an otherwise blank page. A Google search for this company did not bring up any sites that Peake had designed.
In August or September, the city’s existing website was taken down. It was not replaced by anything at all for a period of time and when a new site finally came back up, it had little content.
Peake said that he was hampered by not knowing which documents the city considered important enough to upload. He said that Trinidad’s documents were obscurely titled, giving little indication of their contents.
Albright said that he and City Clerk Gabe Adams were still learning the new software that allows city staff to upload documents. He said they still needed frequent consultations with Peake, and with all their other duties, did not have time to give much attention to the website.
The City Council never saw or discussed the contract signed between Peake and the city.
Albright said that signing such a contract was well within the limits of his authority as city manager, and that it didn’t need to go before the council.
However, former members of the council say that there is a $500 limit on expenditures that don’t have to be approved by the council. The contract with Peake is $1,500, well over that amount. Former Mayor Chi-Wei Lin said that if a proposed expenditure is listed in the city budget, it does not need to go before the council, as long as it is under the amount specified in the budget.
However, the amount budgeted for information technology is only $1,000, and that includes payments to other contractors for various services.