Town webs win awards

Three Island towns, Oak Bluffs, Chilmark, and Edgartown, earned e-government awards for their efforts to post relevant government documents and information on their town web sites.

Chilmark and Edgartown earned the award by meeting criteria that included posting the selectmen’s minutes and agenda, budget, by-laws, town meeting warrant, and town meeting results on their web sites. Oak Bluffs earned an extra honor of distinction, because in addition to the basic documents, the town also included a year’s archive of minutes and agendas for the board of selectmen, school committee, and one other board or committee, as well as event calendars and zoning by-laws.

The awards are sponsored by Common Cause Massachusetts, a non-partisan group “dedicated to citizen participation in open, honest, and accountable government.”

Oak Bluffs has recently placed its entire web site under the direction of information technology director Travis Larsen. Most towns find the most difficult part of the process is keeping information timely. Right now, Mr. Larsen handles much of the updating, but training is scheduled to show town workers how to add the latest information.

“We have something like 600 documents,” Mr. Larsen said. “I can only do so much tracking them down. Each department is going to be responsible for their own information.”

Town manager Michael Dutton said the award shows the town has come a long way in its efforts in using technology to make government more transparent, and the next step is allowing residents to do more business on line.

“We’re only halfway there,” Mr. Dutton said. “We’ll continue to improve and make the web site more interactive, so more people can do their business through the website rather than come to town hall. I know of one architect who decided not to pay a couple hundred bucks to get a copy of the assessors’ maps, because it’s all on line.”

In Edgartown, information technology manager Adam Darack marvels at the web statistics compiled since the site was launched nearly two years ago. The statistics show what documents are most popular

“The zoning bylaws have been downloaded more than 2,300 times. I love that,” Mr. Darack said. “If they’re downloading stuff that much, I guess we’re doing something right. This easy print directory, that has been downloaded more than 3,600 times. My goal with that was to squeeze as much information as possible on one page so someone could print it out and slap it on their refrigerator.”

Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll says the town’s web site keeps voters better informed, and saves time for his staff.

“It’s great to be able to tell people if they would like a particular document or particular report, it’s right there,” Mr. Carroll said. “They can pull up things all hours of day or night. The budget process was posted with the minutes and agendas. Everything they get in paper in the town report, which costs us $5,000, they already have on the town web site.” Mr. Carroll estimates the site costs the town less than $1,200 for its technical aspects, and each department is responsible for updating its own sections with relevant documents and information.