This from Michiel Wackers at Middletown City Hall:
Thanks for the input from your Monday July 7, 2008 Middletown Eye piece, "Recruiting Citizen Reporters". I was able to put the helpful critique at the end of the article to use on our department website. I would have commented sooner, but I was in the hospital with double pneumonia.
Improving the entire website has been an on going effort, by all departments. The Mayor's Office has recent had an analysis of the all the City's websites and the functions that they current serve the public and what departments would like to do for the public via the website. The City has a proposal for a complete redesign, but funding is the big question this year. I'd be happy to pass on a hardcopy for a citizen review of the proposal, just send me an address to mail you copy.
I will be trying to implement some of your recommendations. I've currently redone the meetings of the week to be centrally located on the department webpage with agenda and public hearing notices. This past spring our department has purchased a digital audio recorder and will be seeing if posting audio files is feasible. The big thing that may preventing posting to the website is the size of the files generated from meetings.
Minutes will be posted 7 days after the meeting starting on or before October 1, 2008, to comply with the new Public Act 08-3. In the past some committees wanted only official minutes to be posted, which happens only after they are approved by motion of the committee.
I would love to post applications, maps and other information to the website concerning applications before committees. Currently, we only have the capacity to scan documents no larger that 8.5"x11". We only have that capacity now, because I brought a digial scanner from home that I was no longer using.
I will admit that our department website is far from perfect and myself and staff our all self taught. We have through our limited abilities produced a website with agendas, minutes, legal notices and other documents going back to 2003. I been working on uploading all the digital versions of agendas and minutes that we have. Some committees now have documents going back to 1999. I would love to digitize agendas and minutes that we have in storage, possibly allowing people to look back decades. I've also have at various times tried to set up an access database that would allow the public to search applications, but linking the data to our offline database has been where my expertise has shown its limits.
The fact that departments have independent websites has happened out of individual efforts trying to better serve the public with timely information. Since the City does not have full-time web staff, updating the website can be cumbersome and is not done on the regular basis that we would like. Our department website is updated multiple times through out the week and we have posted over 3,000 digital files to the web.
For a history of how the City's website has evolved and our department's website has eveolved go to http://www.archive.org/index.
Keep up the good work in providing the public another source of news and opinion.
Feel free to contact me on any issues that you and your readers are interested in. I'd be happy to provide whatever input that I may be able to.Michiel Wackers, AICP
Deputy Director of Planning, Conservation and Development
City of Middletown