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Concerns about the defense of Lincoln's city Web site fix

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An open letter to the residents, cyber citizens and officials of Lincoln, Ill.:

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 statement.

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

[Posted September 26, 2008]

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