An open letter to the residents, cyber citizens and officials of
On Sept. 20, the Lincoln Courier published a letter
by Mayor Beth Davis-Kavelman and Alderwoman Wanda Lee Rohlfs in
which they try to defend the decision to take care of the city Web
site disaster entirely in-house, at least for the present. Their
letter contains a critical error of omission, a misleading statement
about fees, a fact error and other significant problems identified
below. These errors and problems have obscured important facts, and
this response to their letter tries to set the record straight, so
that city mothers and fathers and all others can draw their own
conclusions about how to solve the city Web site problem.
Accordingly, I try to demonstrate accuracy and rational thinking as
well as precise, correct and ethical writing -- key values in the
great Lincoln legacy that true "Lincolnites at heart" cherish,
including many of us whose formal educations developed in "the first
city to live the Lincoln legacy."
The critical error of omission is that Davis-Kavelman and Rohlfs
fail to acknowledge that professional Web site developer Debbie
Seaman's free offer of her entire Lincoln Web site to the city is
separate from her additional free offer to update the site for three
months. Davis-Kavelman and Rohlfs tell only part of the story when
they write that Seaman "approached the city to give free Web site
development. Upon the city's inquiry, it learned the pro bono offer
was for only three months."
Seaman's e-mail of July 9 to Davis-Kavelman and Rohlfs had said,
"Along with my offer to design the site pro bono, I also agreed to
weekly updates to the site free of charge for three continuous
months post displaying of the site." If the city decided not to hire
Seaman for further updates, the city could still keep the Web site
as a free gift. Seaman's e-mail of July 22 stated, "It will remain
your site because I am donating my service to the city, so no matter
what happens down the line, the site can remain."
The misleading statement about fees is that Davis-Kavelman and
Rohlfs jump to the conclusion that hiring Seaman to update the site
beyond the three free months "would exceed the budgeted amount for
the fiscal year." In an e-mail of July 22 to Rohlfs, Seaman wrote,
"I will make a deal with city concerning the webmastering fees. I
will bring up the site and do the three months (updating) pro bono;
then I will continue on until May's budget comes in for the $1,000
in your present budget in return for my name and business being
mentioned as the donor of the site." This statement shows Seaman was
not asking for an amount in excess of the city's Web site budget and
was willing to negotiate, but she received no response to this
In addition, the following statement contains a troublesome fact
error: "It was perplexing to read Leigh Henson's letter ...
discussing financial contributions for the city's Web site,
encouraging citizens to donate money towards the cause." I did
donate a modest amount, and I estimated the cost of a new site, but
I absolutely did not discuss financial contributions or call for
others to make donations.
Besides the preceding problems, the ladies' writing has errors in
logic and language. They write, "It is acknowledged the quality of
work Seaman exhibited is exemplary, (comma splice error) however, it
had never been completed at the city's request."
[to top of second column in this letter]
Since when does a free gift have to be requested before it can be
accepted? These ladies even admit that gifts of professional
services do not require bids. In April, the city's Lincoln
Bicentennial Commission (a city government entity) accepted the
complete play script I researched and wrote for the re-enactment of
Abe's 1858 rally-speech (set for Oct. 16) -- several weeks of
professional work -- and I have published a Web page about the
commission's work as a public service. The play and the Web page
were accepted as gifts without requests from the city.
Davis-Kavelman and Rohlfs are obviously the ramrods of the Web
site committee, but their managerial judgment in this role is
questionable. They have pushed an agenda that has required a lot of
people to spend a lot of time and effort needlessly. In a Courier
story of Sept. 16, Rohlfs said that two city employees are working
on the new Web site project. She is quoted as saying, "We are even
thinking about different templates." Templates are cookie-cutter
designs. They require time and effort to customize for appropriate
appearance as well as site content and organization (navigation). It
is apparent that this project is taking governmental employees away
from their regular duties, so this work thus may not be the best use
of taxpayers' money. It is ironic that government employees are
doing work that has already been done professionally by Seaman and
offered to the city for free. View Seaman's work at http://www.lincolnil.org/.
Despite the following goofy sentence fragment, I get a part of
its drift: "after the committee met -- in which the city received
Seaman's offer to perform the work pro bono, and would be
inappropriate to usurp the committee's decision."
Since when are a committee's decisions about Web sites --
typically works in progress (except for Lincoln's original) --
carved in stone? What are the implications of the facts and
clarifications presented above -- perhaps revelations to some people
-- for reconsidering past decisions?
Readers, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions in these
matters, and voice your opinions.
By the way, if and when a decision is made to use the Seaman
solution, she can seamlessly transfer her entire Lincoln Web site
from her server to the city's server via FTP in a matter of minutes.
Then, the city could directly control the updates.
Online "Lincolnites at heart" in Lincoln and throughout the
nation look forward to seeing a new and improved official Web site
that will make us proud of the first Lincoln namesake city. And one
that would make Abe proud, too.
Leigh Henson, Ph.D., LCHS Class of 1960
Professor Emeritus of English
Missouri State University, Springfield
September 26, 2008]
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