La Har

Oct. 16, 2011 at 10:02am

City of Tacoma to hire Toronto for web work


According to Kathleen Cooper TNT, Tacoma has hired a Toronto firm to work on the city's website. Four Tacoma companies bid for the job, and four companies from WA state did as well, out of a total 13 applicants. The City of Tacoma picks a firm from Canada?

The city said: "When it came down to it, Interfinity met all of our needs, and they suggested other things that would add value to try to communicate with our citizens". City of Tacoma, you want to add value to your communication with us? You just told us we are not worth it to you. And we did not even ask for a free parking lot....

comments [68]  |  posted under City of Tacoma, economic development, Tacoma


by The Jinxmedic on 10/16/2011 @ 11:05am
Gee, this makes sense. I mean, there are no local companies that can do this, right?

by ixia on 10/16/2011 @ 11:13am
The mission of Community and Economic Development is to stimulate T(oronto)acoma's economic activity and strengthen T(oronto)acoma's position as a thriving urban, cultural and economic center. We work to establish T(oronto)acoma as a destination city, attract investment that builds a vibrant economy, strengthen the heart of the city, and enhance neighborhood livability.

by KevinFreitas on 10/16/2011 @ 11:48am
(Full disclosure, I work for SiteCrafting, one of the local bidding companies. Though we can master any challenge/project before us, this issue is bigger than any single company, it's about Tacoma)

Here's one of my comments I also posted over at the TNT:
My big question is: "Did the City, not being well-versed in how usable websites should work, even know all the right questions to ask in their RFP?" Any forthcoming company bidding would make sure to not just tailor their bid just to the letter of that RFP but to helping create a complete product using all it's knowledge of the industry as well as the needs outlined in that RFP. In best practices developing a website
there's always a discovery phase so the contractor can get to know the contractee to give them the best possible solution for their needs.

I'm a passionate guy and love the heck out of Tacoma. It's disappointing that, when so much momentum around the passions people hold for this place start cruising, it's swatted down by seemingly thoughtless acts.

The questions I'd beg is this: If (and that's a BIG if) two companies are created equal one local and out of state/country, what percentage more in cost would people accept if the local company costs more?

by ixia on 10/16/2011 @ 12:20pm
An expenditure of 350,000 bucks would have to be approved by the city council, right?

by KevinFreitas on 10/16/2011 @ 12:39pm
Not sure how the budgeting and approval process work. Maybe the budget is a prelim number then the final figure provided by the hired contractor (plus any City costs) is likely what's voted on by the City Council. Whatever the case, if nothing gets re-examined before that time we should rally to encourage the Council to reject the City going with an out-of-city/state/country firm and send the City back to the drawing board.

Not sure why the rushed January deadline for a new site anyway. Believe me, being a web professional, their site/data/etc need more time than that for a reputable firm to fix up right.

by tacoma1 on 10/16/2011 @ 1:01pm
I gotta say that on the surface, this is dissapointing news. Our city, especially in this economic climate, should be looking for ways to shop locally.

These types of decisions that affect Tacoma residents, are the types of things that voters need to pay attention to.

by fredo on 10/16/2011 @ 1:46pm
tacoma1 wrote:

"these types of decisions ... are the types of things that voters need to pay attention to."

Well tacoma1, we have a city election coming up in about 3 weeks. How should the voters respond to this decision to select this Toronto company? I'm looking for some help with my ballot.

by KevinFreitas on 10/16/2011 @ 1:52pm
@fredo: Indeed but we don't know the trail of decision making in this issue. Hopefully more will become known straight away if we can get council members to demand answers.

by Mofo from the Hood on 10/16/2011 @ 2:17pm
People, this is 2011 and the world is now a global village.

The diversity (the village people) within Tacoma City Hall explains the type of thinking and actions taken by our governmental and administrative malfunctionaries.

Sure, money is leaving Tacoma for Toronto. But that money will return to Tacoma. Wealthy Canadian tourists love to site see in Tacoma. And they would certainly get an eyefull of many great wonders recently developed in Tacoma: Village-style neighborhood community gardens; Village-style interpretative monuments (and economic drivers) like the Chinese Reconciliation Park; Village-style transportation routes like government approved bicycle lanes. Heck, after January maybe Canada's flag will even share the City Hall flagpole with the American Flag and the Rainbow Flag. Watch for more village people improvements to Tacoma on the City's updated website!

by Nick on 10/16/2011 @ 2:30pm
Food for thought - I asked this very question during one of Fredo's online candidate forums:

"29. When it comes to accepting bids from private businesses for city projects, is a preference for local Tacoma-based businesses (a.k.a. employers) a significant priority for you? What if the local bid isn't the cheapest but is still within reason compared to the other bids?

Detailed follow-up: If a resolution on the agenda was to award a contract to an out-of-town business, would you be willing to take pause to at least confirm any local bids were given consideration?"

As far as I know, none of the candidates ever addressed that one.

by Nick on 10/16/2011 @ 2:37pm
Curious, was there a resolution voted on by the council, or was this something that doesn't typically qualify for a vote?

by fredo on 10/16/2011 @ 2:40pm
Nick, nice posting. Your comment illustrates a problem with candidates running for office.

They invariably pronounce that they favor open discussion of issues, transparency, their listening abilities, their responsiveness, etc. Yet when faced with a question or issue they would prefer not to answer they just refuse to respond (i.e. Smitherman) or issue some long off-the-point narrative that's non-responsive (i.e. Ibsen).

Yes the candidates should have responded to all the questions including yours.

by Erik on 10/16/2011 @ 3:11pm
How disappointing.

Even though a Tacoma firm made the lowest bid, the City of Tacoma still took great effort to avoid hiring a Tacoma firm.

by ixia on 10/16/2011 @ 3:16pm
Please write your council and ask why and who and if they will approve this deal. If the city itself does not believe in Tacoma we are screwed...

by Jesse on 10/16/2011 @ 5:19pm
I thought "Shift Happens" was all about using local businesses so money recirculates inside Tacoma's economy instead of being shipped out someplace else.

by fredo on 10/16/2011 @ 5:51pm
Jesse you're coming up with some good stuff today. Yeah, the tribune should ask the Mayor to respond to your comment. That's good.

by NineInchNachos on 10/16/2011 @ 7:41pm
WTF. also, NEVER go with BIS

by ixia on 10/17/2011 @ 8:55am
Mayor Srickland's State of the City Address at Shift Happens:
"the plan is simple: educate our own, grow our own, employ our own"....
Yet according the city's communication staff Spitzer, local is nowhere to be found in the list of criteria: "We followed a rating process performed by the selection advisory committee that ranked proposals in six categories: Required specifications, Vendor customer references, Vendor background and experience, Best and final costs and terms, Strategic fit and future capacity, and Implementation plan."
Another strange fast: the budget was 350'000 dollars. The firm hired charges 65,000 to 75,000 dollars. Why would the city budget for a five times higher amount? According to the budget, the council would have to approve, but because of who they hired, the council will not have to approve.

by NineInchNachos on 10/17/2011 @ 8:59am
great post Ixia . mind boggled !

by seejane on 10/17/2011 @ 12:11pm
and I'm still unhappy about paying someone from out of town lots of money for the tag line "#1 WIRED CITY"

by The Jinxmedic on 10/17/2011 @ 12:31pm

by Nick on 10/17/2011 @ 12:56pm
Ok, here's the novel I emailed to the city council (thanks ixia for the Strickland quote):

Dear Mayor Strickland and Council Members,

I want to express my disappointment and surprise at the city's decision to accept an out-of-town/state/country bid for development of the city's website. I will first disclose that I am an employee of a local web development firm that placed a bid on this project. I don't know how to communicate my thoughts without appearing to simply be unhappy that my employer was not selected. The best I can do is emphasize that, had a competing Tacoma firm (or even one based nearby, say in Puyallup or Lakewood) received the contract, or was even publicly considered in good-faith, I would not be writing this email.

I understand that there are state regulations (and possibly some at the city and county level) that preclude the city from accepting local bids indiscriminately. That being said, it is also my understanding that the lowest bid was actually from a local firm, and the city opted not to select it. This suggests there is some allowable room discretion when selecting a bid. Regardless of the legal frameworks in place, I am disappointed that our city appears unwilling to, at the very least, exhaust every effort to award contracts to local businesses before falling back to looking outside.

To me, this decision has been both a symbolic and practical disaster:

Symbolically it suggests that even when Tacoma is home to "best-in-class" firms in a particular industry, it is still unwilling to favor reinvestment in its own local economy. Not a good message for local employers that are here, and certainly not for any employers considering Tacoma for its PNW presence.

Practically, it exports economic value out of our city, county, state, and country. The economic impact of improving the bottom line of a Toronto-based company will have little to no effect on Tacoma's economic prosperity. Investing in a local firm would have paid the salaries of Tacoma citizens, who in turn would have spent most of those paychecks within Tacoma, supporting other businesses and residents, and so forth. It also would have contributed to the growth of a industry Tacoma has specifically targeted in its economic development plan. Surely the dollar amount of these benefits would more than compensate for the difference in initial bids. Not to mention the cost effectiveness versus amassing $170M (?) to try to retain an employer after the fact.

I'll close by saying I truly believe that it is never too late, and that everything is always (re-) negotiable. I encourage the council to consider what options might be available to afford local firms an opportunity to appeal the decision. Show us Mayor Strickland's worlds in action: "the plan is simple: educate our own, grow our own, employ our own" (Shift Happens, 2011). I also encourage the council to consider adopting policies that encourage the city at all departments and levels to make selecting local businesses a priority in future projects.

Thank you all for listening,

Nick Williams

by Nick on 10/17/2011 @ 12:58pm
wow, Mayor Strickland's *words*, that is.


by ixia on 10/17/2011 @ 1:11pm
Great letter!
What I don't get is while the mayor speaks of a plan for hiring local, Tacoma’s economic development department signs on as a supporter to Shift Happens - yet, nobody at the city bothers to add 'local' as a small criteria in a long list of criteria to hire firms. Do these people not talk to one another? We know the mayor’s position is a ceremonial one. Is it also purely symbolic?

by fredo on 10/17/2011 @ 1:12pm
"Show us Mayor Strickland's worlds in action: "the plan is simple: educate our own, grow our own, employ our own" (Shift Happens, 2011)."

You understand Nick, when she said that it was just something to say that sounded good in a speech. There was no thought or intention behind it. But that was smokin' conclusion to your email. I loved it.

by The Jinxmedic on 10/17/2011 @ 1:15pm

by fredo on 10/17/2011 @ 1:19pm
What I don't get is while the mayor speaks of a plan for hiring local, Tacoma’s economic development department signs on as a supporter to Shift Happens - yet, nobody at the city bothers to add 'local' as a small criteria in a long list of criteria to hire firms. Do these people not talk to one another? ixia

Ixia I couldn't agree more. Yet we were told a couple of years ago that the city needed to start paying above average wages to retain "top caliber" employees. Even these top caliber people can't seem get their act together.

by ixia on 10/17/2011 @ 1:25pm
Maybe we can hire a city manager from Toronto. That way all is done 'inhouse'.
TACOMA - where shift happens in Toronto

by Nick on 10/17/2011 @ 1:30pm
One possible solution I didn't mention in my email was the annexation of Toronto into Tacoma. Sure, the US would probably first have to annex Toronto into the country (perhaps WA and Pierce county in turn as well). But those are just pesky details...

by fredo on 10/17/2011 @ 1:33pm
Our new 'revised' motto:

Tacoma: We educate our own...We grow our something something...We....oh f@#k it.

by NineInchNachos on 10/17/2011 @ 1:37pm
@canadian city manager. ha !

by ixia on 10/17/2011 @ 1:40pm
Annex Ruston and Toronto! AND Fircrest - they know how to not build a MalWart

by fredo on 10/17/2011 @ 1:49pm
I wouldn't mind the canadians so much except they always try to fool the locals into accepting their coins, they prattle about Molson beer all the time and call everybody a hoser.

by Jesse on 10/17/2011 @ 1:49pm
Liberate Ruston!!! And Fircrest!!!!

by The Jinxmedic on 10/17/2011 @ 1:53pm

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 7:23am
Update on City's response via the TNT:

Impressions of a local web developer: Foul! New content management system, citizen request forms, email alerts, and economic development dept portal and only one (the smallest project) was given to a local firm? Tip: Want to skirt legal state and whatever kinds of obligations for fair project bidding practices but still require that money go local? Add one simple line to your request for proposal: "Must hold weekly, in-person, face-to-face meetings." Done.

by fredo on 10/18/2011 @ 8:00am
The Canadian designers had one element that the Americans didn't, a strong background in product development:

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 8:03am
Smile you've been McNairHuffed!

by ixia on 10/18/2011 @ 8:20am
"trying to be responsible with taxpayer dollars"
the Canadian b&o tax payers?
He says state law does not allow us hire a local firm. C'mon! Nobody who can read can possibly believe this nonsense explanantion. It is insulting to blame state law.

by ixia on 10/18/2011 @ 8:32am
India can McNair-Huff us - it's cheaper!

by tacoma1 on 10/18/2011 @ 8:34am
What Kevin said. The city needs to walk their talk. They could easily tailor their bid proposals so the local boys and girls can play too.

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 8:36am
What would Norm Dicks do? Let's air tanker these clowns!

by ixia on 10/18/2011 @ 8:37am
State law does not prohibit salary increases (The city manager got himself an extra 35,000 no problem). Being responsible with tax payer money can be applied at will.

by fredo on 10/18/2011 @ 8:43am
This overconcern with taxpayer money is BS. Just a few months ago the city blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on Reconciliation Park after Lauren Walker started sobbing and calling out the other council members for their insensitivity.

by thriceallamerican on 10/18/2011 @ 8:56am
I personally don't have a huge problem with the city going outside of our area or even country if they believe they're going to get the best tools this way. Especially when we're talking about technology and Internet tools, location is becoming less and less important from the perspective of how we work and how product support happens.

Now, in this case, it sounds like the ultimate "selling point" of the Toronto company's bid was some built in document retention capabilities. And as I understand it, this functionality wasn't in the initial request for proposals. So there's two ways to look at it: the city sees this as a value add and chooses the Canadians; OR, the city realizes that maybe document retention is a requirement and puts the project out for new bids. I'd prefer the latter, but can't totally fault them for just up and choosing something based on the initial bids.

Question for the SiteCrafters on the topic of proprietary tools vs. the RustyGeorge/BIS Drupal thing and other open source tools: Are your CMS apps proprietary or do you allow customers to take over the code base after initial delivery?

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 9:29am
good question!

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 9:30am
Hey @thrice, thanks for chiming in! SiteCrafting bases our projects off our locally-built CMS GearBox which is created based on proven open source tools like PHP/MySQL. Best of both worlds. More than secure for our hundreds of clients and, yup, we provide all the documentation and source code to any clients who request it.

by scout on 10/18/2011 @ 9:42am
Ok. Full disclosure. I was a technical writer for Topia, BIS's parent company a few years ago. I also had my gallery website done by BIS before I was hired. The first time around was a total failure and I rejected their website concept.

To summarize my experience with Topia/BIS - I paid $100 a year for more than five years just for registering my site until I realized everyone else was paying $5 - $10 a year.

I don't know enough about Site Crafting to comment but the fact, (sorry Kevin) that on the Feed Tacoma website you still get garbled text with certain punctuation - after several years of users pointing out how frustrating this is - is not a glowing endorsement.

Finally, in my opinion,we should not blindly hire a Tacoma firm just because they are Tacoma based. However this situation underscores the dismal failure of the city's bloated Economic Development Department, whose job it should have been to find a company or individual in Tacoma that could handle the task.

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 9:50am
don't forget Topia CEO's infinite love of Clear Channel Billboard spam. Go back to Gig Harbor spam lover! heh.

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 9:54am
Thx for that @scout. I'm happy to keep looking into the character issue but FeedTacoma is a labor of love and, despite recently having a sabbatical to focus on the site, some bugs take time to squash. If folks would like to contribute or buy ads and support this being my full time job I'm all for that (but it won't likely happen). FeedTacoma pulls content from dozens of sources all using different blog systems and different browsers and funky characters get in there and are passed through multiple different hoops to get up to the homepage of the best place to get all things Tacoma around.

FeedTacoma is just me. SiteCrafting is a talented team who pride themselves off creating fantastic web-based solutions from the first meeting to site launch and beyond. I wish FeedTacoma had a full team of designers, developers, quality assurance testers, and more behind it but it doesn't.

Have a look at the client list on the SiteCrafting website. We have no sales staff because we thrive from word of mouth business and stellar references. We take great pride in our work and service and it shows in our steady growth over the last dozen years despite the economic climate.

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 9:55am
Kevin, sitecrafting is just slowing you down man. Feed Tacoma needs you FULL TIME! and gimmie gimmie those blog/comic pages!

by fredo on 10/18/2011 @ 10:03am
how much are the ads?

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 10:09am
I'll send over a price sheet once I'm home tonight @fredo, thx for asking!

by Nick on 10/18/2011 @ 10:32am
To me it isn't about whether or not the city selects a local firm. It's more about the process, and whether or not it ethically and legally places local bids at an advantage over out-of-towners.

If a Toronto-based option still comes out ahead, let it be a result of the stellar value the city will get and not because of incompetence or a lack of commitment to at least *trying* to go local first.

by jenyum on 10/18/2011 @ 11:09am
@scout please don't come down on the local blogger/developersphere if personal sites are not always the best possible foot forward. Nobody gets paid for any of this, it could always just go away if it gets to be too much of a PITA.

I agree re: requiring in person meetings. Usability seems like their number one issue, yet they've chosen a company that will not be able to meet in person to hammer out the inevitable thorny issues that happen when employees try to use the system. That is going to be loads of fun.

Another thing they could have done but did not is require that employees be actual full time salaried/benefited employees and not subcontractors. (Something I know SiteCrafting values) I just took a quick look at the RFP but I didn't see any of that in there, just a requirement to track their ethnicity. There's a huge difference in level of commitment and consistency between a firm that hires subcontractors at $20 an hour, and bills $50, and a firm that pays its full time benefited employees the prevailing wage. (And believe me, in that business there are a lot more of the former than the latter.)

by jenyum on 10/18/2011 @ 11:19am
Putting aside the local issue, I don't understand how the labor costs would add up, at 60-70k, unless they are using cheap labor.

by NineInchNachos on 10/18/2011 @ 11:27am

vote for Robert Jesse Hill! he could have built the whole website himself!

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 11:58am
Exit133 weighs in optimistic the money saved will help locals out. It's not that hard to go local -- what makes E133 think the City will just pour that saved money directly into local business and employees?

by The Jinxmedic on 10/18/2011 @ 12:09pm
$20 an hour? That's good money!

by thriceallamerican on 10/18/2011 @ 12:15pm
If you're a programmer making only $20/hour in this area, you should probably start looking at other jobs, that's WAY below market.

by ixia on 10/18/2011 @ 12:40pm
Kevin - The city could use the 'saved money' to hire an out of the country public relations firm to deal with the outfall of this contract deal.

by KevinFreitas on 10/18/2011 @ 1:13pm
Aye, I do hope the City gets themselves a great website and support for their/our money. That being said, I also hope they'll implement simple changes to future RFPs to better eliminate questions like this and re-doubles their efforts to walk the "go local" walk.

Seeing that everyone will never be satisfied with what the City does, would you rather field complaints about our money being shipped out of this country or that the City spend more than the minimum but kept that money and jobs here in Tacoma?

by Nick on 10/18/2011 @ 4:40pm
I'd also point out the City doesn't exactly have the best track record in terms of supporting local businesses. For example, it never used Russell's services for employee retirement savings until ~6 months before they moved out.

by ixia on 10/18/2011 @ 5:28pm
DaVita is doing okay..

by KevinFreitas on 4/23/2012 @ 4:06pm
Huh, thought this was an interesting bit that came to my attention today:

So on top of the City hiring a Toronto firm to do Tacoma's new website they're now also hiring out a project manager? Is there trouble with Toronto?


by NineInchNachos on 4/23/2012 @ 4:08pm
you should apply kevin!

by NineInchNachos on 4/23/2012 @ 4:27pm
did they realize that project management wasn't part of the deal with the canadians ?

by fredo on 4/23/2012 @ 5:31pm
city is making a mountain out of a mole hill. just check out a copy of " HTML for dummies" at the library. The city needs to focus less on its website and more on it's budget problems. IMO