Do me a favor and imagine you are one of those strange individuals who either just moved to Baton Rouge or is thinking of moving here. I know the requisite level of suspension of disbelief may seem too staggering to accomplish such a feat, but concentrate. Focus, and try to put yourself in the shoes of someone like that.
OK, now that you’ve managed to assume the mindset of a recent or possible future Big Raggedy transplant, pretend you want to find out more about local government. Why? Because you’ve either just moved here or are considering moving here, which means you’re weird, and weird people sometimes are curious about local government. Case in point: yours truly.
Alright, so you’re new to Baton Rouge, or may be so soon, and you’re civic-minded. What do you do to learn more? Well, if you’re like nearly every other functioning human being under the age of 70, you search Google. And if you’re at least nominally logical, you’d look for the official government website for the city of Baton Rouge.
However, as of the time of this writing, if you attempted to find a link to the homepage of brgov.com (the website for the city of Baton Rouge/East Baton Rouge Parish) using obvious search terms like “city of Baton Rouge,” “Baton Rouge government,” “East Baton Rouge Parish,” or “Baton Rouge official website” on any of the three major search engines (Google, Bing, or Yahoo), you would not get results with a link to that homepage. Nor would you get a link to any other pages on the official site.
The only page indexed by Google tells you to use the phone to give the city-parish money. Also, the copyright hasn’t been updated since the Bobby Simpson administration.
Except for one.
The top result for “city of Baton Rouge” on Google offers a less-than-official-looking link to the “Online Citation Inquiry and Payments” page on the official site. The same search on Bing and Yahoo doesn’t even offer that.
Moreover, that page says “Our online payment system is currently unavailable, please call City Court Accounting during normal business hours to pay any parking or traffic citations.”
The only page indexed by Google tells you to use the phone to give the city-parish money. Also, the copyright hasn’t been updated since the Bobby Simpson administration. But at least there are links at the top of that page, one of which will take you to the brgov.com homepage.
So technically, you can get to the official site directly via Google with at least a select few search terms. Nevertheless, it’s through the cyber equivalent of a skeezy back alley littered with broken glass and panhandlers trying to shake you down. Not exactly the ideal splash page for people looking for more information about a major American city they may be considering as their new home.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned search terms will generate a hit (within the first few results) for the East Baton Rouge Parish page on louisiana.gov, the state’s official site. That page has several government-related links, one of which will take you to brgov.com. But this does not negate the fact that every major search engine has seemingly been exorcised of every page (with the one noted, obscure exception) of the city-parish’s official site.
Some folks I know seem to believe brgov.com’s absence from Google, Bing, and Yahoo is no big deal, since searching for terms like “Baton Rouge government,” “city of Baton Rouge,” or “East Baton Rouge Parish website” generates a link to the EBRP page on the state’s site, from which you can then get to brgov.com. By that same logic, I shouldn’t worry if The Red Shtick is invisible to Google since people can find a link to our site on Talk1073.com.
Interestingly, if not at all intuitively, you may stumble across a location listing for some entities within city-parish government in the maps section of each search engine. And in those map listings, you may get a link to brgov.com.
For instance, on all three search engines, a search for “Baton Rouge Metro Council” results in no more than four map listings popping up on the primary results page. One of those listings has a link to the official site.
Yahoo apparently hasn’t figured out who replaced Kip Holden as mayor, nearly four months after he (officially) left office. (He mentally checked out long before that.)
If you search for “Baton Rouge mayor,” though, results depend on which search engine you use. Google offers no map listings on the primary results page, and even if you bother to click on the maps section for places listed under “Baton Rouge mayor,” the map listing for the Mayor’s Office does not include a link to the site.
Bing doesn’t present any map listings, either, but clicking on the maps tab does give you a listing with a link to the site.
And then there’s Yahoo. A search on my desktop via the redheaded stepchild of search engines offered a map listing — with a proper website link — in the right sidebar of my browser. However, a Yahoo search on my iPhone did not volunteer a map listing, and, therefore, no link to brgov.com.
Moreover, Yahoo apparently hasn’t figured out who replaced Kip Holden as mayor, nearly four months after he (officially) left office. (He mentally checked out long before that.)
Other searches may yield results for nongovernmental, unofficial, third-party sites. Some of these websites may have a link to the official site. Others may offer some good information, but since they aren’t the official site of the city-parish, you might not want to take the information offered as gospel.
For example, maybe you have an out-of-control “block captain” who regularly patrols your neighborhood for cars parked in yards (including those of people whose homes were flooded in August and are staying with relatives) and places notes on them claiming they are violating the parish’s “dust ordinance.” And you have no idea what the hell this crazy woman is talking about, because what the hell is a “dust ordinance,” and who the hell is worried about dust after the area just got 30 inches of rain in two days?
So you Google “Baton Rouge code of ordinances.” You’ll probably have to rely on an unofficial site like Municode.com to combat her overzealous, unempathetic ass.
Authentic killer ninjas couldn’t stay out of sight this completely.
Or maybe you search for “Baton Rouge boards and commissions,” or perhaps “Baton Rouge sales tax payment.” All of these items — “code of ordinances,” “boards and commissions,” and “sales tax payment” — are tabs in the left sidebar of brgov.com. Yet none of them, when paired with “Baton Rouge,” yield a link to the site.
And in case you’re wondering how our official city government website search engine optimization stacks up against that of other municipalities, the official website of just about any other city in Louisiana can be found simply by searching for “city of (insert name of city).” Whether it’s New Orleans, Lafayette, Shreveport, Lake Charles, New Iberia, Thibodaux, or Kenner (brah), the top hit on Google is the official website of each respective city.
I sent an email to the webmaster for brgov.com, asking about these issues. I also asked if the Google Chrome alert I got while attempting to reach the official site on January 5 had anything to do with the search engines erasing virtually any evidence of the site’s existence.
Forty-eight hours later, I haven’t gotten a reply. Hopefully, the webmaster is too busy trying to resolve this problem to respond to my inquiry. Or maybe they’re having issues with their email, too.
They say once you go online, it’s nearly impossible to purge every trace of yourself from the internet. But whoever’s been handling brgov.com seems to be doing a damn fine job trying to disprove that notion. Authentic killer ninjas couldn’t stay out of sight this completely.
Possibly the most disheartening part of all this is that, for 12 years, Kip Holden said Baton Rouge was “America’s next great city,” and now that city’s government essentially doesn’t exist, according to the most comprehensive search tool ever created.
UPDATE: Two days after publishing this article, brgov.com miraculously began showing up in Google search results.
In a win for satire, if you search Google for Baton Rouge, you can now find the city’s official government page. https://t.co/0HBimGABOB
— Steve Hardy (@SteveRHardy) April 21, 2017