Red Bank mulls Web software providers

Resident urges council to rethink contract


Red Bank has put off a decision on contracting for Web services while software options are evaluated.

“Although the council authorized me to execute an agreement regarding that contract, as of today the agreement has not been received by me or reviewed by me, so I have not acted on it,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said after questions were raised about a contract for Web software at the Borough Council meeting.

“I am willing to listen and keep my ears open.”

At the Jan. 12 meeting, Red Bank resident Jim Willis, who runs a software company, spoke in opposition to a contract for Web software approved at the Dec. 22 council meeting by a 4-2 vote,

Menna said he will continue to listen to possible options regarding upgrading the borough’s Web site, despite the council’s previous resolution that authorized the borough to prepare and execute a contract with C3 Citizen Communication Center.

Willis, Harrison Avenue, explained to the council the difference between open and closed software. He described the software the borough is looking to purchase as closed, proprietary software that was chosen in a closed process without a request for proposals.

“It has been rolled out in Middletown and Fair Haven, and if those Web sites are any indication, the software does not provide citizens with data in open extensible formats,” he said.

He said proprietary software is a lot less tangible because it means someone is buying the right to use the software for a limited amount of time instead of outright buying the software to own.

Willis said that with open software, the owner has the right to open and redistribute the software.

“When applied to the borough’s Web technology choices, it’s an important distinction of closed or open,” he said.

According to the proposal from C3 to the borough, the firm’s services will cost about $2,000 a month.

“The borough does not own the software but rather licenses it, and as such, if the borough wants to change vendors in the future, we’ll be right back to where we are now with a pretty lame Web site, but we’ll be tens of thousands of dollars poorer,” Willis said.

The proposal states that general administrative services will include departmental calendars, publishing of government forms, creating and managing citizen surveys, publishing special events, and providing important notices.

Municipal service requests include instant delivery and routing, instant tracking of requests, and detailed department and administrative reporting.

The service will publish neighborhood watch information for the police department and manage citizen crime tips.

Willis compared closed software to a “roach motel, because data gets in but doesn’t get out.”

“The current generation of Internet users expects Web site data to be sharable. They know good Web sites have information that is extensible, flexible and sharable, and they know poor ones keep the data on the Web site,” he said.

Willis said that for $2,000 a month, “It looks like Red Bank is going to get a roach motel.”

“I believe Red Bank can do better. I think there’s tremendous opportunity for Red Bank to establish itself as a leader by seeking an open solution,” he said. “I think the council has the right intentions here, and I think coupled with the right technology, there is no reason why Red Bank can’t be a shining example of successful transparent, open government.”

After listening to Willis, Menna said no action on the contract has been taken.

“Council and members of the public have some questions. I think it’s a deliberative process. I will be reviewing not just Jim’s comments but other comments received, and then based upon our attorney’s advice, I’ll be guided accordingly,” Menna said.

In an interview after the meeting, Willis said he has spent the past 12 years trying to make sure taxpayers own the software they buy. He said he has worked both nationally and internationally with governments regarding open versus closed software.

Willis said he’d like to see the borough adopt open-source Web content management software and share that software with other municipalities in New Jersey.

“I think it’s very difficult to justify [spending] taxpayer dollars on proprietary software, especially in our current economic climate,” he said.

The next Red Bank Borough Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at 90 Monmouth St.