Normally, I wouldn’t volunteer for something in order to get it done, and then bitch about how one has to volunteer for something in order to get it done. But after spending time I can’t afford, once again manipulating !#&@*# document and image files to upload onto NorthfieldPlan.org in the hopes of making City process more transparent, I’m fed up. It’s high time WE CITIZENS put some real political pressure on.
When the City started the Comprehensive Plan/Land Development Regulations revision process, staff (Brian O’Connell and Dan Olson), the consultants (ACP Visioning and Planning), and the planning commissioners (including Ross and myself) all believed that citizen participation and getting information out was extremely important, and were committed to those ideas. Making information available via the web was a key part of that strategy. The problem was that no one at City Hall really knew how to make that happen. Since I was a True Believer, was moderately web-savvy, and had access to a server, I volunteered to build an officially sanctioned sub-site for the Comp Plan revision process (NorthfieldPlan.org) What can I say, I’m a patsy.
Griff has repeatedly asked the question, Hey, if the City spent $80k on a new website, how come it doesn’t work the way it should? (Actually, the money came out of the EDA, because the EDA members – of whom I was one at the time – believed the song-and-dance about how a good website was an economic development tool. Yeah, it could be. If it actually contained current, timely, useful, interactive, multimedia material. But that’s a whole ‘nother post. And the “new” website is about three years old now.)
Anyway, the content-management system built for the City is fine, but there’s no one minding the store. When the website was done, the understanding was that departments should/would have the freedom to manage their own little online fiefdoms. As a general rule, however, the management level of City staff is just not very tech-literate. I don’t mean that upper-level staff should spend their time uploading files, even if they had the technical skill to do so. In fact, no one would seriously think that a volunteer member of that vortex known as the Planning Commission should spend their time on that task either. What I mean is that since most of the City department heads don’t have a good understand of how Internet technology is being used or where it’s going, in either municipal or other contexts, it’s difficult for them to wrap their heads around what can or should be made available on the City website. Some of the administrative staff might have a better understanding of that, but they don’t have the authority to determine what should be put online or to be proactive enough to seek content.
What we need, Mr. Roder, Mr. Lansing, esteemed Councilors, is known in Internet parlance as a “webmaster”. On the most basic note, this is a person who puts stuff on the website and makes sure it all works correctly. One person should have the oversight and authority for the entire website, and this isn’t something that can be done in only an hour a day in someone’s “spare time”. In an ideal world, the webmaster would be not just a glorified clerical worker with tech skills, but someone who understands this Brave New World, and isn’t afraid of its inhabitants. If someone with the appropriate skill set is given the right authority, the webmaster can go a long way towards making the City website useful for both City employees, residents, and businesses.
I once suggested to both Library Director Lynne Young and City Administrator Al Roder that perhaps a staff librarian could be given the responsibility for managing the City website. They’re information experts, after all, and are doing a pretty darned good job of making the leap into the 21st century. (If you want to see the strengths and weaknesses of the City’s content management system for yourself, you can look at what the library’s done with their part of it.) This could be a very good solution, and both Lynne and Al were more than open to the idea; in fact after I brought it up Lynne said, “Funny you should mention that…. we were just talking about it this a few days ago.” But apparently it hasn’t come to anything – that conversation took place several months ago.
There are only a handful of people letting the City know that they want, expect, need more information on the City website, and those people are mostly named Griff Wigley. But if we can get some specific feedback here about what information and/or services would be necessary and/or helpful to have online, maybe we can encourage the City to finally take action on this long-overdue item. It needn’t be a big thing that would bog down in process – it’s a purely administrative decision.
Come on, people, let’s hear it! (Please?)