Web Site Management
How to Make
the Right Decision
Many municipalities are seeing how an investment in expanding their web sites can help them serve the public.
There’s a lot to see on New Jersey’s municipal websites. Going in to 2006, at least 58 percent (or 329) municipalities had “official” websites, with and additional 13 percent (74) having a presence on a community or other type of “unofficial” website. With over 70 percent of municipalities having a site, there is bound to be, and there is, great diversity in how municipalities manage their sites and the information and features presented to the public.
The League and the State Chapter of Government Management Information Sciences, the organization of government technology coordinators, recently held a seminar on municipal websites. The seminar looked at the do’s and don’ts of websites and the options in managing them. This article highlights the major themes. Additional details and coverage is available on the League’s website at www.njslom.com and in PowerPoint slide presentations from the seminar on the Division of Local Government Services’ website at www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/egg.
How to Manage Municipal Websites In thinking about how to manage your website, there are several guidelines that can help you make your decisions. First, “you get what you pay for”—there is a direct correlation between what you invest in your site, be it staff or volunteer time, or payments to a contractor; and the design, content and features on your site. So, be prepared to set a resource (money and time) budget and make the investment.
The second guide is that someone needs to decide what kind of site you’ll have: relatively static, or news-based, or interactive with community, or a combination of approaches. And along with that, set an approach to make decisions: an advisory committee, a single individual or whatever works for the organization.
Once those decisions are made, and regardless of the approach, the third guide is to assign a staff member to manage and coordinate the site. A single staff member needs to be in charge of coordinating staff input, changes, new content, editorial consistency and any relationship with a vendor.
Fourth, own your domain name and content yourself; don’t let a third party or a volunteer have ownership of your content or web address. There have been many horror stories of websites gone awry when volunteers got mad, or a lack of service resulted in web links going to porn sites. Talk to your service provider to get good guidance on how to protect your interest in your domain name.
Fifth, regardless of whatever type of services you buy from a vendor, review the contract—know what you are getting and paying for – and have your attorney review it as well.
Finally, consider designing the site using web accessibility standards. Good web design means your website will let people with visual impairments and other disabilities access the site using specialized web programs—but the site needs to accommodate those programs. Web standards are the way to get there. For more information on what accessibility means, go to www.w3.org/wai/intro/accessibility.php
Also, government cannot forget that more and more of the population are not native English speakers, and providing links to a service (usually free) that will translate the web page to another language gives people greater access to government information.
Procuring Website Services Under State Contracting Laws Whenever a commercial service is used for website management or hosting, municipal officials have to take into account laws regulating procurement of services. This includes compliance with the Local Public Contracts Law (LPCL) and the new Pay-to-Pay laws. Under current law, the primary concerns are the extent of competition used in procuring the service, which also affects the length of the contract.
After conducting research, if the cost of services over the life of the contract is estimated to exceed the municipality’s bid threshold under the LPCL, the following options can be considered in the procurement process.
- Bid the service according to the normal bid process
- Procure without formal bidding as a professional (artistic) service for a one year contract, or as an Extraordinary Unspecifiable Service (EUS) for a 2 year contract. An EUS can have an option to extend it for an additional two years, a professional service is limited to one year.
- Use the formal competitive contracting process for up to five years with the approval of the Department of Local Government Services. Given the nature of these services, upon the submission of a proper request, the division will routinely approve website design and management services (not stand alone hosting) for competitive contracting.
If the estimated cost of the services over the life of the contract is less than the bid threshold, the municipality must solicit more than one proposal and then contract with the vendor they find to be most advantageous, price and other factors considered. In this case a two year contract, with the option to extend for up to two more years, is allowed. (Extensions are not considered in the decision to use a formal process or obtain quotes).
In the case where the value of the contract for the service is expected to exceed $17,500, the municipality must apply the Pay-to-Play provisions of N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.4 et seq. or a local Pay-to-Play ordinance.
Website Features and New Technologies Basic features found on most websites include:
- listings (with photos and sometimes bios) of elected officials and some senior administrative officials, and sometimes, e-mail links to them; listings and links to more information about departments, boards, committees and commissions
- governing body meeting agendas and minutes;
- a news section of upcoming government and community events, often displayed in a (sometimes downloadable) calendar format;
- an e-mail and telephone directory of staff and officials; and
- downloadable forms, such as permit forms, licenses and various applications; and in many cases, photos of local events.
More sophisticated websites provide search engines to help people find information on their site, privacy
Networking for Technology Coordinators
New Jersey now has an organization dedicated to managers of government technology: NJ GMIS, the recently formed New Jersey chapter of Government Management Information Sciences.
Our members-only list provides a way to immediately contact fellow New Jersey technology managers with questions about technology policy, services, hardware and software. And the NJ GMIS list goes beyond municipal government; it also reaches members of the county, public school and state government sectors.
As a chapter of GMIS International, the support lines extend beyond New Jersey. A network of hundreds of local and state government technology experts from all over the country are available to answer questions and provide support with the sending of an email.
The annual fee to join GMIS is based on your technology budget. And new members who join between February and June, will get their annual membership extended until July of 2007.
NJ GMIS also holds statewide and regional networking meetings. To join, go to www.gmis.org and take a look at what the association offers and join online. For information on the New Jersey Chapter, check out the web site at njgmis.org or contact President Michael Esolda (Township of Woodbridge).
If you would like to get involved in managing the association or organizing events in your area, please let us know.
statements (describing if “cookies” or other tracking information is used), registration for mailing lists; access to the Municipal Code (usually a link to the website of the company maintaining the codebook), emergency information (listings of shelters and support organizations), and information about public bids and requests for proposals.
Moving into the area of innovations, many municipalities are seeing how an investment in expanding their website can help them serve the public. These organizations are providing access to geographic information systems (GIS); permitting online payment of taxes and utility bills, running online registration and payment for recreation programs (usually done through a third party provider), and using online polls and questionnaires to discover the public’s views on local issues. Some sites also provide information about public property auctions.
One of the most challenging services that are being tried by a few towns are guest books, message boards, forums and “blogs.” These services can provide a new level of public participation by allowing local officials or community members to post their thoughts and opinions on line, with the opportunity for the public to comment on them. These are challenging service as they can open the door for vociferous public debate, and can, depending on the situation, degenerate to name calling. Caution must be used when deploying these features. It should be made clear to the public how these activities are to be used.
What’s next? At far end of website innovation, we find municipalities integrating their website and communication activities with their local cable TV public access channel, providing live or recorded video of public meetings, and using “RSS” technology to permit new postings of information to be received directly by those using RSS or blog technology.
Michael Esolda is the Chief Information Officer for the Township of Woodbridge and President of the New Jersey Chapter of Government Management Information Sciences.
Morris Enyeart is the League's Internet Consultant and President & Ceo of city Connections LLC.
Article published in March 2006, New Jersey Municipalities