A City Narrative and the Aardvark that Ate It

On the February 9 DeKalb city council meeting agenda was this action item:

2. Resolution 2015-011 Waiving Competitive Bidding and Authorizing the Execution of a Website Design Agreement with CivicPlus in an Amount not to Exceed $56,189 in Year One.

Staff said they didn’t have time to put out Requests for Proposals (RFPs). They claimed they’d been taken totally by surprise by Department of Justice findings that the city’s website was not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards and needed to act this instant to meet a tight deadline in June.*

Did the city council pass the resolution? I honestly don’t know. The discussion took one hour, twenty-six minutes and there were several votes taken, including one that I described in my notes as “original motion, DEAD, 9:07.” I could be wrong. At any rate, council still continued to talk and vote until an expenditure up to but not exceeding something around $51,000 was passed 5-3.

There’s another potential issue besides the possible zombie motion, too. Waiving bidding on a public improvement (as opposed to routine procurement) of $20,000 or more generally requires a 2/3 majority to pass. So do some budget amendments, and the CivicPlus deal definitely did blow the website budget of $20,000. I’m not sure what the exception was that allowed for a simple majority vote in this case.

Lest you think I’ve totally lost it, let me tell you I’m not the only one. Staff have not been able to get the minutes right for this meeting and the culprit is the CivicPlus discussion. Right now we’re awaiting the second revision.

All circus-y and possibly improper votes aside, the CivicPlus deal, like the Department of Justice settlement agreement, is a story about information withheld and/or manipulated.

If you’ve read the DOJ story at the above link, you know that city staff withheld information about estimates they obtained for fixing DeKalb’s website to meet ADA compliance standards, even when asked for them point blank. Instead, they vaguely claimed that they had contacted “a number” of website developers, that the estimates for time and cost were so “very variable” that they couldn’t ballpark it, and that they couldn’t guarantee the deadline for the fix would be met if they didn’t go with CivicPlus.

Here are the facts. Emails and phone messages from January and early February indicate the city talked to four website design companies including CivicPlus. The other three were Fox Valley WebWorks (Elgin), TR Web Creations (Algonquin), and Aardvark WebWorks (Barrington). Fox Valley said it does not provide ADA compliance services. TR would do it for $40 per hour but didn’t know how long it would take. Aardvark sent a 22-page analysis and summary along with this email message on January 22:

I’m attaching the document I’ve put together outlining all issues that need to be addressed to comply with WCAG and Section 508.

Everything is broken down to the smallest detail of what exactly needs to be fixed, how, and how long it will take for each.

Bottom line: 35 issues affecting 117 pages, 54 hours’ work, $8,100.

Council members wondered aloud February 9 how much it would cost just to fix the compliance issues and leave the redesign for later. Ald. Baker at one point explicitly asked whether such a fix would cost less than $10,000. Yet, city staff could not be bothered to give a straight answer, even though by then they’d been sitting for two weeks on the most detailed estimate possible.

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* City of DeKalb has defensively posted some documents on its website. Specifically, you can find the July 2013 notification and the settlement agreement signed January 12. However, staff have not placed the October and December 2014 notifications from DOJ online, but have merely described them in a narrative timeline.

Seems to me city officials would have actually posted all the documents if the documents truly support the claim that they had no idea DOJ would spring website noncompliance findings on us. But they didn’t.

p.s. If you want a copy of the full Aardvark estimate in PDF, email me and I’ll send it to you.