Commissioner Smith Takes Over The Internet

During the February 4, 2019 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, “Adam” Smith brought a number of items relating to our town website, currently found at TownOfRamseur.Org, to the board.

In short, Commissioner Smith would like to purchase two web domains with .gov domain extensions (TownOfRamseur.Gov and Ramseur.Gov) at a cost of $400 per domain per year. We currently pay approximately $200 per year for our .org domain, which does seem a bit excessive to me, but neither I nor Mr. Smith were around when the domain name was originally purchased. I have purchased many web domains over the past ten years or so, and rarely have I paid more than $20 per .com address.

Does everyone reading this understand what a domain name or a web host is? Given the level of confusion among the commissioners in the video above, I suspect not. I don’t claim to be an expert in this stuff, but I have been building websites for a little over ten years now, so I’ll share what I know. Some definitions are in order.

For our purpose here a domain name represents an Internet Protocol resource such as a server computer hosting a web site, but it can be any service communicated via the Internet. Follow this link to read a much more comprehensive article on domain names at Wikipedia. When I use the term domain extension I’m referring to the part of the domain name at the end (.com, .org, .gov, .info, etc.), but I’m not certain that’s a technical term.

A web host is a business that provides the hardware and services needed for a website to be viewed over the Internet. Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers. A server is a computer or computer program which manages access to a centralized resource or service in a network. The Internet is a giant computer network.

A website is a collection of related web pages published on at least one web server. Websites can contain text, video, music, or almost any electronic information. For the purpose of this article the centralized service in question is our town website.

Soon after Commissioner Smith began discussing the .gov topic on February 4th, Commissioner Caudle asked him to read a letter he had asked the Clerk to place in the commissioners’ meeting packets. Smith explained, when questioned, that the letter is something he copied from a government website, but the letter is signed by Smith, and in the text he claims the title of chief information officer (CIO) for the Town of Ramseur, a position that to my knowledge does not officially exist. Even if such a position existed, Smith would need Board approval to act as that authority.

Continuing, Smith names himself administrative point of contact and names Commissioner Cheek as the billing contact, although the document sent to the other commissioners ahead of the meeting does not reflect that. Since Ramseur doesn’t actually have a town manager, our administrative and billing point of contact should actually be the Town Clerk. At Commissioner Caudle’s request the topic was tabled until a later date.

Town of Ramseur website is hosted here.

The discussion then moved Smith’s desire to change our web hosting company, currently David Turner Designs in Bessemer City, North Carolina. Commissioner Smith said he wants to move the town website to a “commercial” hosting provider, as if to imply that David Turner’s server  is an old Windows95 machine parked in someone’s moldy basement. What he failed to mention in the meeting is his real motivation: alleged collusion between the publisher of this website and David Turner, as detailed in this post from a few weeks ago.

Smith correctly stated that the Town of Ramseur currently pays David Turner Designs $600 per year for web hosting and maintenance.  He wants to move the our website to GoDaddy.com and sign a three-year hosting contract. Mr. Smith says that will lower our cost to about $30 per month, but a few minutes later he refers to a printed “order summary” he had placed in the meeting packets listing a price of $575.64 for three years. Something doesn’t add up here.

What Smith fails to mention, or doesn’t understand, is that the hosting provider he is recommending is only a provider; they will install WordPress on the server and they might even help migrate our website from the current server to theirs. What they will not do is keep the various widgets and plugins within our site updated so everything works all the time. They also will not be doing things like keeping the calendar up to date and adding job listings, meeting agendas, or other information to the site like the folks at David Turner Designs are currently paid to do as part of their $600 ($50 per month) annual fee.

By the way, did you know we could have access to the minutes of every meeting posted on the town website where we could all read them at our convenience? It’s a very simple task.

Wait, what is WordPress? And what are widgets and plugins? I’m glad you asked.

WordPress is a free content management system used to build and maintain websites; this website and the Town of Ramseur website are both built using WordPress.  A WordPress widget is a small block of computer code that performs a specific function. The quotes, counter, and subscription functions on the side (or at the bottom if you’re reading on a smartphone) of this website are widgets. A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They extend functionality or add features, like a secure shopping cart or a discussion forum, to a website.

Commissioner Smith is advocating a plan from GoDaddy called “Managed WordPress Ultimate“. Here’s a link to a page explaining the basics of what a managed WordPress site entails. Nowhere on that page is there any mention of keeping plugins and widgets up to date, nor is there any mention of adding new content (calendar entries, job postings, or meeting minutes) to the site. Why? Because they don’t offer that service! David Turner Designs does, at a price that in my experience is unbeatable, and they are a small family-owned business based in another small North Carolina town.

In the past week I’ve seen at least four or five items added to the town website by Mr. Turner, at the request of our Town Clerk, all at no additional cost. GoDaddy won’t be doing that for us, and if “Adam” Smith gets what he wants, who do you think will be handling those duties? Our Town Clerk doesn’t appear to know how, and probably doesn’t have time. Grant Cheek and Mayor Shaw certainly don’t know how.  As for Smith, based on what I’ve seen (stock photos, links that go nowhere; basically a glorified place holder), we certainly don’t want him or one of his anonymous friends maintaining our town website.

For a man who claims to be a successful Internet capitalist, “Adam” Smith certainly doesn’t seem to know much about the Internet. The Town of Ramseur needs to keep David Turner Designs hosting and managing our website. Commissioner “Adam” Smith ought to take his neighbor, Commissioner Cheek’s advice to other members of the Board, and mind his own department.

Correction: An earlier version of this post named Loray Media as the Town of Ramseur’s current web hosting provider. Loray Media is now called David Turner Designs. The post has been updated to reflect that correction.