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Websites are cheaper to build than ever. Cheaper, that is, unless you're a government body. Word of the cheap revolution has not reached Palo Alto's City Hall, where officials have signed off on a $240,000 website redesign, with a contractually obligated $25,000-a-year "maintenance fee." For all that, you'd think you'd at least get a functional, efficient, easy-to-navigate site, especially if you're the capital of Silicon Valley, right? Think again.

The City of Palo Alto launched its brand-new website on August 1 to much fanfare and hype, crowing that the website has a "redesigned search engine that goes even beyond a Google-style search." True, in the sense that it goes beyond useful search results into complete and utter nonsense Some search results take a reported 11 seconds to load 16 tangentially-related results. The design also has its share of detractors who have bombarded the city council with complaints. As if the underdeveloped design and buggy search features weren't enough of a problem, the site itself doesn't comply with accepted Web standards or, we hear, render properly in browsers besides Microsoft Internet Explorer.

So far, the reaction from the city government has been to dodge and deny. City councilmember John Barton tried to placate the naysayers by acting as if the contracted companies were overprivileged school kids trying their hand at HTML: "Folks worked extremely hard and thoughtfully on this. They recognize it's not going to be perfect." That's what you get for $240,000: An "E" for "effort." Not bad for government work.