Saturday, September 19, 2009

September 19, 2009 Hamblen County Website To Get An Update (Finally!!)

I have publicly asked county commission several times to update the county website and to make it easier to access information about county government. Here and here.

Commissioner Nancy Phillips and I pushed for a county website from the moment we took office in 2002.  A website was established with limited information provided at the start and the addition of a few features later.  Even though I did not run again in 2006, I have continued to attend commission meetings and I have continued to prod commissioners to enhance the website.

Finally, there is a response to my voice and to the voices of others who have asked for more information and online services on the website.

Yes, it looks like a more informative county government website is coming. See the current Hamblen County Government website here.

The one county official who has already made the most with her "section" of the website is County Clerk Linda Wilder. She has scanned in county commission minutes and has provided some online services.

One feature that would enhance the usefulness of the clerk's section and of the entire county website would be a key-word search feature. I have proposed this and county attorney Rusty Cantwell has previously agreed that this would be helpful not only to the public but to him in researching prior actions of county commission.

With a key-word feature, a word or words (e.g. "county budget") is entered in a search box and then the site provides a list where that word appears in the website, such as in Planning Commission documents, county commission minutes, agendas, etc.  A key-word feature is common on many websites. See the Knox County government website here with its key-word or search feature near the top of the page.

The improved Hamblen County government website will be updated with current information instead of letting old and inaccurate  information remain on the website for months after changes occur. Links to state government and local legislators as well as U.S. Senators and Congressmen will be included. A community calendar of events will apparently be added--with information about non-governmental happenings such as Mountain Makins, plays, etc. The website will continue to have links to job opportunities with the county--but frankly these are few and far between and many are filled by officials or department heads without any posting at all.

The newspaper reports that beginning in October, the Hamblen County website will post committee agendas AFTER THE COMMITTEES HAVE MET.  Posting agendas after the meeting has already taken place is of zero use to the public or to interested citizens who might attend if they could see an agenda and decide if a topic of interest to them is to be discussed.  Posting an agenda after the meeting is about as helpful as locking the barn door after the cow has escaped.

I haven't received an answer to the obvious question about the committee agendas. Why won't the committee agendas be uploaded and posted (or scanned) on the website BEFORE the committee meetings? The agendas are prepared, printed, and provided to commissioners several days BEFORE the committee meetings. Why can't those agendas be uploaded and posted (or scanned) on the website at the same time? The City of Morristown posts agendas on its website before council meetings. Surely, the county can do the same.

Also missing in the planned update of the website is posting the minutes of committee meetings. The minutes of committee meetings are prepared just a few days after the committee meetings take place and are put in commissioners' packet several days before the full commission meeting. Why can't the committee minutes be uploaded and posted (or scanned) onto the website at the same time they are prepared, printed off, and provided to commissioners?

A government website should absolutely include committee agendas, committee minutes, as well as times, actual dates, and places of all government meetings. I would think that both a community calendar and full governmental information could be posted on the county government website. But IF for some reason there is not time or a willingness to do both, I hope the Mayor will choose to place county government information, including agendas and minutes, on the county government website first and add a community calendar at a later date.

A government website is a wonderful means of providing governmental information to a large segment of the public. Let's hope that Mayor Purkey and his assistant Amber Shelton decide to provide full and timely information about meetings, agendas, and minutes.  Agendas should be posted on the website before the meetings. Minutes should be posted after the meeting just as soon as they are prepared.  The final approved county budget should be posted within 30-60 days of its passage.  And a key-word feature should be added so that citizens and taxpayers are not searching for an "information needle" in a "website haystack."
Next would be making the information and packets that are provided to committees and commissioners and the press available online to the TAXPAYERS!  Now there's an idea.

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