Web site issues debated again
Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners President Bill O'Neil is asking the board
to hire a professional to handle the town's Web site, and to give up the
current site handled for free by a volunteer.
O'Neil's argument centers on what he says is the need for accountability by
the person who handles government information. He believes having some
authority over the Web master, either by actually employing him or paying a
consultant, would elevate the quality, reliability and timeliness of the
information on the town's site, he said Wednesday.
The town's Web site www.emmitsburgmd.gov is managed by area resident
Webmaster of www.emmitsburg.net
as well as the town government's
Web site www.emmitsburgmd.gov.
The issue of whether to use another person to update the Web site has been
Last year, then-town
President Patrick Boyle pushed to drop Hillman's services, citing
mistakes in the online information and a
lack of integrity in Hillman's work, he said.
Boyle began attempts to separate the town's Web site from Hillman following
a public disagreement with
Hillman about the town's founding date. Hillman, president of the
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society, said his research proved the town's
founding date was 1785, not 1757, as is published on signs greeting visitors to
Boyle believes in the 1757 date, and expects the town to celebrate its 250th
birthday in three years.
Now O'Neil is carrying on that issue. O'Neil, former president of Citizens
Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg (COPE), was supported by Commissioner and COPE
member Art Elder during the discussion about the site at Monday's town meeting.
Others who spoke in support of cutting ties with Hillman included COPE
President Catherine Forrence, Vice President Harold Craig and member Betsey
Catherine Forrence said she has been frustrated with the town's Web site and
wants to see it changed.
"I've been frustrated in the past, and I'm sure a lot of people have, with
the inaccuracies and omissions on the site...Errors are commonplace," she said,
adding that she found many grammatical errors in the town minutes and agenda,
as well as gaps in meeting minutes, she said.
Speaking in opposition to changing the Web site were
Hoover and Commissioners
Rosensteel and Dianne Walbrecker.
Hoover said at the meeting that Hillman has updated the site quickly every
time he has asked him, and the information available online not only reflects
all the information the town has given, but provides easy links to other
Rosensteel said she could not support making any change to the Web site
situation when the town has so many financial commitments regarding replacing
the town's ailing sewer system.
Estimates for Web services can range in the thousands of dollars for setup
and additional monthly fees for updating the site, Hoover said.
Walbrecker also said the site has been
well maintained and appreciated the service Hillman provided. She asked town
manager Dave Haller if Hillman updated the system when new information was
given to him, and he said it was.
Hillman, who was not at the meeting, told The Gazette on Tuesday that the
site is updated quickly, but that Forrence was also correct about her comments
regarding typos and a lack of information sometimes.
meeting minutes and
agendas are only put online when they are given to him, he said. The
town staff can't give him the minutes until the board approves them, which
doesn't usually happen until a month later, at the next town meeting. And the
agenda won't be given to him until the board approves it, which will often
delay when it is posted, he said.
Town clerk Donna DesPres said Tuesday that the problems mentioned by O'Neil
and others at the meeting were not in Hillman's control. She said the Web site
hasn't been a priority and that Hillman quickly updates everything the town
"Oh, you wouldn't believe how quick. I think it's amazing," she said.
DesPres said she has sent him things and expected he would wait to update it
until he got home from work, but it would be online "right away."
She said the town staff is not able to update the system the way he does.
DesPres said town manager Haller sent a memorandum to the staff Tuesday
telling them about a new plan for more organization and responsibility in
handling the town's Web site. She said the site would be reviewed once per day
for timeliness of updates.
O'Neil said Wednesday that regardless of what the staff says about their
responsibility for the problems, he still believes the site should be managed
by a professional.
He is also concerned about the political leanings of Hillman because Hillman
Commissioner Ted Brennan to moderate an
online forum during the town's election season last spring.
O'Neil said only Brennan and Commissioner Dianne Walbrecker, then a
candidate, participated in the discussions. O'Neil, who was offered the
opportunity to put his biography and political positions on the Web site,
turned down the offer because he didn't want to open himself up to attack, he
Hoover said O'Neil's concerns about separating the Web site from
Emmitsburg.net is understandable, but that Hillman has never done anything
improper with what the town has given him for the Web site, nor has there been
any untimely delay in posting information.
He said the town has hired and is training two people to work on information
to be posted on the Web site. That information will then be given to Hillman to
post. The mayor said he is prepared to discipline those employees if the work
is not done to the standard the town expects.
O'Neil said the issue is "not going to go away."
"It's an issue I'm going to focus on. I want all town materials for the
meeting uploaded. I want every doggone sheet of paper uploaded to the Web
site," he said. "...I suspect it won't be done because it's too much for a
volunteer and his volunteer staff to do. How many balls can you have in the air
before you start dropping them?"