The old City of Saskatoon website had reached the end of it’s practical life. It was designed by Zu back before these new fangled things called CMS’s existed and when hand coding HTML was a way of life and while they did a great job of it when it was launched, it was coded in part by Microsoft Frontpage 97 (having used Frontpage 97, you can’t imagine how painful that must have been). The City of Saskatoon decided last year to get a new one. After ridiculous comments by city councillors (looking at you Councillor Hill who suggested once that we get a website like Calgary’s for cheap once the prices came down), RFPs, consultations, leaked screen shots, a website promoting the new website, and much hype. it finally launched.
It looks okay outside of some truly horrible font choices. When I say, “okay” I sadly mean that it looks like it was powered by Joomla (which is was). It is a lot faster then the old one but there were some problems. The search feature doesn’t work because someone forgot to upload a new site map to Google Webmaster Tools so all of the old results are there. Instead of forwarding all of those results to the matching pages on the new site, they left them there as dead links.
Most troubling is that not all of the old content made it over from one site to the other. Trimming content from a website is nothing new. Companies do it all of the time. Governments on the other hand rarely do it, even when they change parties. I can find press releases and reports on the Government of Saskatchewan or even Government of Canada website going back to the launch of the internet. Some governments have been aggressive in getting even older stuff online in a variety of searchable formats. It takes time but in some jurisdictions you have access to an incredible amount of historical information and not all of it flattering. Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg are all great examples of cities who have large expansive archives that share the good and the bad.
With the launch of Saskatoon’s new website, we have lost a lot of that information. The City Clerk’s portion of the website used to hold the reports, papers, and even articles related to Saskatoon’s history that were accessible nowhere else. The City Clerk doesn’t even have a section on the new site. Old archived videos and council agenda minutes and reports are gone. They are supposed to be uploaded “soon” but why launch without the content that used to be there?
After I wrote Councillor Darren Hill about this. Within a day of that, there was a note say that if you were looking for that information, you could ask the city for it. So I did. I asked for all of it. So far I have been promised that someone will be in touch.
I could ask for it, because I knew about it but if you don’t know about those reports (last year I was sitting down with a City Councillor who had no idea that the City of Saskatoon had benchmark reports comparing us with other western Canadian cities), you won’t even know to get them. That is why you have a city website with all sorts of information on it, so people can browse. It is something that we have lost now and unless City Council puts their feet down, we won’t get it back.
Why does this matter? The City says that people rarely access those reports. They could be right. Maybe it was only Hilary and myself who poured through them (I know there were others) but they were there and gave anyone who cared enough to access them some insight into how the City of Saskatoon was run and the data, rules, and regulations that drove decisions (or in most cases, were ignored by councillors.
That information was commissioned by the City and now isn’t available to be browsed for really no reason. It isn’t 1995. The City of Saskatoon isn’t being hosted on the Saskatoon Free-Net or GeoCities. They have more than a megabyte of storage to work with. Actually if storage is a factor, then the City of Saskatoon has the most incompetent IT people in the world.
Apparently us wanting to look at that information is part of the problem. For long time readers of my blog and my column, I have used that information many times to praise or call out the city and their statements as being inaccurate. I have written many times that I tend to cover Saskatoon City Council as I would a sports team. I want them to do very well but when they don’t, we talk about that as well. If council wants better coverage, do better things. Instead of doing better things, the city is doing more and more to hide what it does. I have said this many times but it is easier to find out what other cities are doing across Western Canada than it is to find out what Saskatoon is doing. So what are we doing that is so secretive?
The reason is that Saskatoon doesn’t care about transparency anymore. It is all spin. The City comes out and spins Standard and Poor’s financial rating report and at the same time tries to refute Phil Tank’s fair summary of it. They do this without publishing the actual report. This is the same City that had attack ads of its own Transit Union after it locked them out. It is the same City Admin that underfunded roads for over a decade and then spent thousands on new decals for pylons that said, Building Better Roads. Press releases went from informative to almost partisan sounding complete with meaningless quotes from politicians and city managers.
Now we have a website that is the continuation of the same thing. It is another tool in spin. It may look good but everything is presented with City Hall’s slant on it. As far as I can tell, everyone on council is fine with it. Why wouldn’t they be fine with it, it communicates one thing and that is that everything is fine in the City of Saskatoon. For those that used data or facts to disagree or point out inconsistencies, well that data is all gone. To get it, you need to go through the city or file a costly Freedom of Information Act.
This is the new Saskatoon. Hope you like it.