Sunday, May 26, 2013

Loss of the town web site

The town of New Paltz web site.  Wow.

How many years ago was it revamped?  Not many.  It was created in Joomla, a hard-to-learn system that no town employee ever really mastered, and even before it was hacked it was woefully out of date.

Now there are plans to spend something like $6,500 to make a site in Drupal, another system that, like Joomla, can be made to do anything, unless the thing you want it to do is be easy to update without having to relearn a lot of complex steps every time.

I worked on a Drupal site, and because I was paid to do it, I learned how, but it was hard for the non-techie.  I was once talked into allowing my own page be written in Joomla when I really wanted WordPress, and it was so ridiculously complex that I mostly abandoned it because it took me over an hour to post anything.  Kind of like the state of the town's site -- no one had the time or patience to post content.

Our supervisor found a company that specializes in municipal web sites, and has agreed to spend that money, plus a handsome amount for annual maintenance.

Meanwhile, the supervisors of Rosendale (already complete) and Marbletown are using a company based in Bloomingburg that's charging about $2,500 to make a town site that has a near-zero learning curve when it comes to adding new content.  And no annual maintenance fees, just a modest hosting fee, which the town could elect to pay to someone else, but will have to pay regardless.

I believe our supervisor, and her predecessor, failed to engage in a test of "what is it like to change a page or add a new one?"  Web designers, specialists as they are, invariably underestimate the complexity because they do this stuff every day.  No one ever asks, for example, a deputy town clerk or clerical assistant in the building department to spend a day trying to update the thing -- these people tend to be involved in the layout and collection of the information, which is very important, but the ongoing work is even more so.

It's not my intent to use this as a way to trash the supervisor -- I think it's a grave error, but one that many people make because they do not understand the many layers of the process.  It's unfortunate that she decided to spend so much more money than our neighbors to get a site that will likely be too hard to use for most employees, but I really don't think it was vindictive on her part, or manipulative on the part of the developer.  But I do not expect the newest, overpriced version of the web site to do much better than its prior incarnation.

When it comes to sites which must be updated by busy people for whom complex computer skills are not the priority, it's best to keep things simple.  This site will surely look snazzy and may well be easy to navigate, but I predict that updating it will soon become lost knowledge, kept only by the developer, and we will not see very much in the way of current information.

Is it too late to find another option?

Edit:  according to the comment by user Josh, I reversed things.  The old site was written in Joomla, the new will be in Drupal; my original text switched the two.  I have corrected the error, which was caused by trying to keep track of two hard-to-use platforms with similar-sounding names.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Anywhere but New Paltz?

The topic of the moment in New Paltz is . . . where do our elected leaders live?

It's not exactly a new topic, but it was hashed over again at the May 15 New Paltz Village Board meeting.  (The entire meeting is four and half hours, but this link is cued up for when the action begins.)

Take a look at the whole section, if you're interested.  If you're not, skip past Mrs. Rhoads explaining that she didn't challenge Mr. West's right to vote by asking the Board of Elections to have the sheriff check it out.  Zip over Mr. West explaining that his lease ran out and that he's been living out of the village since mid-January.  Ignore Mr Kimbiz using this as an opportunity to get offended at the very idea, and Mr West pointing out that he's lived outside of the village for less time than Mr Kimbiz was out west, not attending meetings or otherwise doing the work he was elected to do.

Actually, that's a good place to start paying attention -- it's right here.  If you think smackdowns are appropriate for public meetings, it's a good one.  And right afterwards, listen carefully as Mr Eriole, village attorney, and Mr West explain the residency laws, and exactly what the village attorney was asked to do.

First of all, the distinction between one's right to vote as a resident, and one's requirement to be a resident in order to serve in a public office, are quite muddled.  It may seem like the legal standards are the same from this conversation, but that isn't likely.

In fact, from what Mr Eriole explains, he consulted with Mr West about what he should do to respond to a potential challenge to his right to vote.  His right to vote, not serve.  In other words, Mr West consulted the village attorney -- who is paid by village taxes to advise on issues affecting village government -- about his personal enfranchisement.

The fact that this same attorney told me close to a year ago that village resources couldn't be used to benefit individual residents boggles my mind, but I suppose attorneys will do what their clients tell them to do.

So what we actually have here is our mayor admitting that he used village resources to explore his ability to vote.  Perhaps Mr Eriole should set up a table at the fire house, and advise any resident how to proceed in the case of a challenge.  Or perhaps Mr West shouldn't be using the village attorney for personal problems, and Mr Eriole, admitted to the bar in New York, Connecticut, the Federal and Supreme Courts should have known better and advised Mr West as such.

Despite the egregious lack of judgment Mr West shows here, I agree that we have a trend towards elected officials moving on out.  I'm tired of loopholes, like people with enough money to rent an apartment doing so to establish residency.  Loopholes, in my opinion, happen because most legislators are lawyers, and lawyers are trained to build in loopholes that they can they argue in court.

We need to get some solid, common-sense, intelligent, educated, non-attorney legislators in every level of government.  Attorneys are marvelous arguing the points of law, and I have been grateful for mine every time I have ever needed one, but they should not be writing the very laws that their colleagues then argue in court.  (I'm also not so sure about attorneys as judges, but my resolve is not so strong on that point and I would be more easily swayed on that count.)

Until that happens, we can have people like Susan Zimet, Stewart Glenn, and Jason West moving to anywhere but New Paltz and still serving, so long as the ambiguous standards are successfully argued in court.  But what Mr West did, essentially coopting the village attorney for his personal use, is clearly unacceptable.  That's exactly why I resigned from the ethics commission -- I was concerned one of these five people would do something stupid and I would have to judge them.  Now, it's not my problem to judge, but I will continue to ask questions.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

New Paltz village elections 2013

Cohen 124
Rocco 335
Kerr 180
Rotzler 252
Serdah 62
Kerrotzler 2 (not counted)
3 other votes cast not counted.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A gadfly is not the same as a candidate

I'm a gadfly -- I poke, I question, I wonder about flaws in the New Paltz political class.  This is not a unique pastime, and plenty of people with a lot more smarts than yours truly have embraced the hobby.  Some, myself included, have even run for office in the hopes that we could speak truth to power from within the power base itself.  And that is where most local gadflies fall flat.

When you're a gadfly, by definition you focus on the negative.  What's the point of questioning something if it works and everyone is happy with it?  This is a dangerous mindset, because you only get noticed when you're complaining.  People in New Paltz mock the gadfly that they disagree with, or call him rude or bombastic, or stop returning his calls.  Some of us are well-qualified for the role because we're already rude and abrasive, but others have those traits thrust upon them.

Being a gadfly isn't a terrible basis for becoming a political candidate, but once you make the decision to run for office, New Paltz voters are pretty clear that they want you to switch gears.  Complaining about the opposition is nothing new, because at least 75% of the politically engaged citizens are doing that already.  Sure, a small sliver of people who hate your opponent will nod their heads and pull the lever on that basis alone, but New Paltz voters often want something more.

What they want is substance.  What is your vision for the office?  (Saying that you think having a "vision" for position X is a load of pretentious crap counts as a vision.)  Do you have any thoughts on the problems facing the incumbent?  (This is a popular question, but one I don't give much weight to, because armchair quarterbacks don't have enough information to make meaningful decisions.)  What do you feel the big challenges ahead are?  What attributes do you possess that will help you tackle these still-unknown issues?

Contrasting oneself to one's opponent is necessary, but it's part of a bigger package.  You can't sell yourself as the "everything sucks guy" and expect to win the votes of more than a couple score of curmudgeons.  Moreso than the country at large, people in this community are thoughtful and engaged.  In 2011 two candidates got lackluster returns largely because they focused too much on what was wrong with their opponent and not enough on succinctly summarizing their own assets.

There are always going to be people that cast a vote based on gut, or personal relationships, or the malleability of the candidate.  I'm not one of them; I've voted against friends and for people who are self-righteous jerks.  My personal feelings about you have little to do with your ability to serve the community.  My sense is that New Paltz has a lot higher percentage of folks who, like me, vote based on qualifications other than the ability to be a gadfly.