From Clutter to Class: How a Massive Website Project Brought out the Best in Manatee County Government

Manatee County Government’s website seemed hopelessly trapped in 1998 -- the World Wide Web’s Ice Age. The outdated site made Manatee County Government appear as if it barely merged onto the Internet Superhighway. Maybe worse than its poor usability, the site was an absolute nightmare for staff to update.

Manatee County needed a new electronic gateway to reflect the revamped and responsive local government we’d worked so hard to achieve in recent years. An organization of 1,700 could no longer depend on one webmaster to generate new info for the web, so we also needed a website that was easy to use and update – a site simple enough for the technology challenged to use, but sophisticated enough to challenge software designers. Early in the project it knew this would easily be one of the largest cross-departmental projects Manatee County Government had ever undertaken.

In the summer of 2009, after weighing several options, including outside vendors, a small internal team determined the job was not too big to be done in-house. The County’s Information Services (IT) Department purchased for $30,000 a new open-source content management system called Magnolia under the premise that the job could be done for about half the cost of outsourcing – music to the ears of policy makers in an era of scaled back government. Its best and brightest IT minds spent the fall learning how to use Magnolia that provided the form and flexibility we were looking for.

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