Thursday, September 23, 2010

A good start for Longmeadow's town website

but there is still a long way to go!

There are now announcements from Town Hall being posted on the town website- A new notice was also posted today that the Town Manager’s Website TaskForce will asking town residents how to improve the website and what other electronic services should be offered.

Now that I know that there are some people at Town Hall reading the Buzz blog and reacting to at least some of my comments, I would like to offer the following suggestions….
  1. Keep the town announcements and event calendar timely and up-to-date.
    Town residents want to know about street repaving work and other project work “before” it begins. There is currently some street reconstruction work going on this week on Longfellow Street. I know that Center School sent out letters to parents but not all of us have kids attending Center School so a town wide announcement would have been useful.

    The new agenda “tab” on the Calendar solves the "readability" problem that I mentioned in my last post.... thanks!

  2. Meeting minutes…. I attended last week’s School Building Committee meeting and posted some notes here on the Buzz. At this meeting on Sept 15 (8 days ago) there were 4 sets of minutes approved dating back to May. Why are they not posted on the School Building Department website?

    How about Select Board meeting minutes?
    There is only one new set of minutes posted for the combined School Committee/ SB meeting on September 20, but where are all of the other ones for meetings this past summer?

    How about meeting minutes for all of the other boards/ committees/ commissions?

    The new Massachusetts Open Meeting Law (Section 22 (c), effective July 1) states: “Minutes of all open sessions shall be created and approved in a timely manner. The minutes of an open session, if they exist and whether approved or in draft form, shall be made available upon request by any person within 10 days.

    The new website should provide town residents with easy access to all meeting minutes. The Town Manager and “webmaster” should actively solicit this information. Posting of meeting minutes 2-6 months after the meeting has occurred usually provides information with very little worthwhile value.

    Perhaps “draft” meeting minutes could be posted (and labeled as DRAFT) as soon as they are available possibly within days of a meeting.
      (A former Longmeadow School Superintendent (Tom McGarry) posted his meeting "notes" on the town website within a week of the meeting.) This would permit town residents to better understand what is happening and attend the next meeting or write email if necessary to provide their comments. This would be a large step forward in communicating with town residents.

  3. There is an organization called Common Cause of Massachusetts which actively promotes better e-Government. Each year they evaluate (and re-evaluate) official city and town government websites in Massachusetts using an established set of criteria and recognize cities and towns in Massachusetts accordingly for their efforts. Through my work as town webmaster Longmeadow has received this e-Government award for the past three years. There is a “with distinction” award designation which Longmeadow has not received because some documents have been missing from the website. Receiving the e-Government “with distinction” award should be a goal of the new website team.

    If Longmeadow were being evaluated today by Common Cause, it is likely that Longmeadow’s town website would not receive the e-
    Government award

  4. There was a strong interest by three members of the Select Board (Aseltine-Barkett-Swanson) to take control of the website and convert it to an “official town government” website. That makes a lot of sense since significant taxpayer money will now be used to support the website.  Providing technical support for community organizations including website development and other needs should be considered outside the scope of the website.

    LongmeadowBiz, LLC has already made an offer to provide Storrs Library with free website support but it has been refused.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Website Taskforce to make their final recommendations to the Select Board.  Hopefully, in the meantime there will be continued effort to keep the website up to date.  Town residents have been accustomed to better service.


Alan Dove said...

A major reason for the slow posting of town news is that the site uses the completely outdated technology of static HTML files. It may have worked okay when you were managing it, but that's because you were willing and able to dedicate the extra time to maintain such a legacy site (and apparently unwilling to invest the time to upgrade it to a modern content-management system).

Now the webmaster is a town employee who has many other duties and isn't intimately familiar with the personal quirks in the legacy code, so it takes longer for stuff to appear. That's one of the major issues the Task Force is supposed to address. In any case, an entirely new web site should come out of this process, so perhaps you should wait until that happens rather than lobbing criticisms at the interim site.

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...

Thank you for your comments.

I've already made multiple suggestions in two previous posts (Cost of Technology) that the town should consider implementation of a content management system for the new website.

Sometimes legacy systems do function well- thank you very much!

A new "modern" content management system will allow the burden to be shared by a number of town employees- not just one non-employee volunteer. Implementation of such a system does not come for free as I have described in my posts.

Alan Dove said...

I read your earlier posts about the costs of technology, which reflect fundamental misunderstandings about the town's real options. First, the cost of the school web sites is defined by the school department's contracts with its unions. In a perfect world they would pay nothing to maintain Google-based school sites, but the teachers' union managed to get those absurd stipends written into their contract. It's not a technology issue.

As for the "Virtual Town Hall" option, it's a blatant ripoff. Nobody with a clue pays a dime for a content-management system these days. Indeed, the town's current technology service already offers professional installation and maintenance of several open source CMSs, so that should add no cost.

You also vastly overstate the need for training the people who will post content. A modern CMS makes posting and editing as easy as putting a comment on a blog page. Anyone who can use a computer can do it.

It was this sort of misinformation about costs that inspired me to volunteer for the website task force in the first place. I'm there to ensure that the town doesn't get taken for a ride. There's no technical reason a completely renovated web site should cost more than a few hundred dollars a year. I know you value your past volunteer efforts much more highly than that, but the truth is that web hosting and design have now become cheap commodities.

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...

I'm glad to hear that the Website Taskforce has a member who is knowledgeable about the options.

From your recent post....

"As for the "Virtual Town Hall" option, it's a blatant ripoff. Nobody with a clue pays a dime for a content-management system these days. ...the town's current technology service already offers professional installation and maintenance of several open source CMSs, so that should add no cost."

"A modern CMS makes posting and editing as easy as putting a comment on a blog page. Anyone who can use a computer can do it."

Once a CMS is in place the challenge is to make sure that the system is "fed" on a regular basis.
Your analysis suggests that the design/ implementation as well as "feeding" of a CMS is virtually free because we already have the people + skill resources in place.

That is hardly the case... these identified resources are already stretched. The town must give up other project or dept needs or hire additional people.

Unless of course you will be signing up as the next "volunteer webmaster".

Alan Dove said...

Posting content on a modern CMS requires no more effort than emailing something to the webmaster, so it can be done with no increase in overhead once the system is installed. And apparently, the town is already paying an IT company for a plan that includes installation and maintenance of a CMS. In other words, the pieces are all in place already, they just have to be connected together.

As for your last comment, no, I am absolutely not going to be a volunteer webmaster for the town. I hear they get no respect.