Some local city government websites are more difficult than others to navigate for residents looking for basic information, such as meeting agendas and minutes, but several cities continue to update their sites with the aim of making them more transparent and user-friendly.
To mark “Week of the Sun,” which begins on Sunday, the Journal Inquirer checked out how easy it is to use a local municipal website. The goal for each site was to find the agenda for the next selection committee or city council.
While several local towns’ websites are fairly easy to use to find key information, requiring only a few clicks to find the meeting agenda, others required a longer site visit. For example, it takes five clicks to get to the goal on the Suffield site and six on the Ellington site.
“Sunshine Week” is an initiative launched in 2005 by news publishers to promote open government and access to public information, highlighting the importance of accessible and transparent government.
March 16, President James Madison’s birthday, is also Freedom of Information Day. Madison, a leading figure in the Constitutional Convention, championed the Bill of Rights, particularly the freedoms of religion, speech, and press protected by the First Amendment.
Local government websites are virtual town halls, with many documents, schedules and other information that previously required traveling to the physical building. But accessing the information is not always easy and requires frequent updates to keep up with changing technology and resident expectations.
Manchester is in the process of redesigning its website, with the new site due to launch in the spring, communications director Brianna Smith said.
“Our goal with this new site is to create an experience that makes finding information and performing tasks quick and easy,” she said, adding that the new design aims to provide users with the information they search in two clicks less.
The revamped search capabilities aim to make finding information “as easy as using Google,” Smith said. “Launching our new site this spring will be a great upgrade for the community.”
Some feature upgrades will include those for the city calendar, contact buttons and faster payments and schedules for city staff and residents, she said.
Choose your language in East Hartford
Similarly, East Hartford recently made improvements to its website.
“As a user of the city’s media prior to taking office as mayor, the city does a solid job of providing agendas and minutes, so I give it a high rating in terms of usability,” East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh said, adding that the city’s roughly 20-year-old website underwent a “complete refresh” in October. “We are always looking for new ways to reach the community.”
Walsh said he thinks the East Hartford website is “engaging” and has also taken a more active role in responding directly to residents, such as through his weekly “Ask the Mayor” video, where he reads and answers questions from residents.
Ekaterine Tchelidze, spokeswoman for Walsh, said last year’s update was aimed at improving usability and ensuring that information can be easily located. This included redesigning the homepage to include quick links to the information residents tend to request the most, and integrating a translation widget that allows residents to access the website in the language of their choice.
“While there is always room for improvement, we take the transparency and accessibility of the city’s website very seriously as it remains the official source of information for our residents and businesses,” said Chelidze. “We continue to improve the functionality of our website, while finding new and refined ways to reach our constituents.”
Community engagement a goal
Vernon City Administrator Michael Purcaro said ‘community involvement is close to my heart’ and revamping the city’s website was one of his main goals when he took office Four years ago.
“It needed a complete overhaul because it hasn’t changed over time,” he said. “Websites cannot be a static form of engagement.”
To meet residents’ needs, Vernon created a community advisory group and completed a feasibility study with a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Purcaro said, adding that the city has also hired a full-time communications specialist. and established a social media presence. .
“Something everyone was asking for” was a leading community calendar, which now helps faith-based organizations, youth groups, voluntary organizations, historical society and other groups avoid scheduling competing events at the same time. time, Purcaro said.
Unlike some other local towns, Vernon’s website is a centralized location that includes both town and education information, making it easier for residents to find the information they’re looking for.
The municipalities will print copies
Local towns will print hard copies of meeting minutes if residents visit their town halls, and residents of many towns can download the minutes and print them on personal computers.
Local leaders said they fully comply with state freedom of information laws and that the minutes are released in a timely manner.
By state law, meetings of all city agencies, except executive sessions, must be open to the public and all votes must be made available to the public within 48 hours and recorded in the proceedings. – minutes of meetings.
Minutes must be made available to the public no later than seven days after the meeting and must also be posted on the agency’s website.
In addition, public bodies, other than the General Assembly, must make their agendas public at least 24 hours before a meeting, as is the case for special meetings.
There are exceptions for emergencies, but emergency meeting minutes must be made public no later than 72 hours after a meeting.
These are the minimum requirements under state law, but municipalities have the flexibility to adopt more stringent requirements if they wish.