OC Website Process Left No Other Choice

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OC Website Process Left No Other Choice

In a surprising turn of events, the Ocean City Mayor and Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to award the redesign of the town’s website to its own advertising firm, MGH Advertising, rather than seek price quotes and design ideas from other agencies.

About a month ago, members of the council questioned the $178,000-plus cost estimate on a new site by MGH, deciding instead to select a state-of-the-art tourism site and seek bids on what it would take to build a site of similar look and capability. That seemed like a logical process. The council was supposed to decide on which site to use in its bidding process this week, but instead went a different route and quickly awarded the work to MGH.

Because the process has been poorly handled by the city from the beginning, and all sides seem to agree on that, this became a difficult situation with only one conclusion – the city had to award the work to MGH, so long as the price quoted was found to be reasonable. The only question was going to be when MGH got the job. It was not a matter of whether it would happen, based on everything that’s transpired in recent months, more a question of when. It simply came a little sooner than expected.

Since all bidders were aware of MGH’s $178,000 offer, it stands to reason all companies seeking the contract would be competitive and undershoot this proposal. If they could not match or underbid that MGH figure, individual companies would steer clear of the bidding process. The barometer had been set and therefore the process was corrupted once the quote went public. Once it became distorted and subsequently unfair, there was no way to right the ship.

The good news for the town is subsequent research showed the MGH figure to be reasonable. Councilman Doug Cymek, who made the motion, reportedly contacted the company that created most of the sites the town had explored for its Request For Proposals process, and he confirmed to the council MGH’s offer was in line with competitors and maybe a little below. Therefore, after taking everything into account, particularly the bizarre process, it’s hard to argue with this week’s decision.

While it seemed abrupt to the public, it was clear the council majority had a plan in place to bite the bullet and go with MGH prior to this week’s meeting. This had become a big mess, thanks largely to the public disclosure of the MGH price tag and the importance to get the site redesigned in time for spring 2009. The council could was right to now let the tainted process continue and move forward with the job.

In the grand scheme of things, this $178,000 expenditure is not a big deal. Yes it’s a lot of money for something that we think should cost less, but the reality is it’s only 3.5 percent of the town’s advertising budget and it’s of critical importance to have a quality website. Tourism leaders understand this and that’s why they supported it.

Without a state-of-the-art website, Ocean City will not compete in this Internet savvy tourism market. The fact is most vacationers decide where they are going to go through the Internet, and it’s no secret Ocean City’s municipal site is antiquated. The new site needs to be up yesterday, but the town will have to settle for mid-spring. Although the process was flawed in a number of ways, the end result is acceptable. Ocean City will get a quality website at a price consistent with the market.

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