Posts Tagged ‘municipal website’

City of Portland Website

March 29, 2009

Transparency:  They have videos of city council meetings but navigating to them isn’t easy.  From the home page there is a link to city council agendas but they don’t include the video.  I had to pull down the tab for “services” and pick council and then find the videos.  This is a major problem with most municipal sites.  They allow where the resource is generated, in the case of video by public access television or the like, to determine how someone accesses it.  Even if there are limitations in where the videos are housed, there is no reason that a visible and prominent link can’t be made on the main page for city council resources.  “B”

Feedback: From the home page you mouse over “Services Request” and there are a list of services which you can request online including reporting an abandoned car, noise, construction permit, graffiti and the like.  What isn’t explained from this page is that you need to fill-out an online log-in account.  That would be useful.  “B-“

Richness of information: The City of Portland makes it very easy to find information about zoning and permits.  There is a clear link under “Business” for zoning and permits.  Once you click on that it takes you to the Bureau of Development Services which has done a really good job of laying out various types of permits and how to obtain them with a reassuring and sensible internal consistency.  “A-“

Transacting business:The City of Portland provides lots of business information under “start a Portland Business” but it places information about “new business” at the bottom of the page forcing you to scroll to get there.  The word “start” suggests “new” so resources relating to first time start up should be at the top of the page.  Also, you can’t fill-out forms online or submit them.  “C+”

Overall: This isn’t a bad website.  The materials regarding permits and zoning are quite good.  There appears to be lots of useful information but its not very interactive or easy to navigate.  For a city with such a progressive reputation I was expecting a website to reflect that and this one doesn’t. “B”

City of Columbus website: seen better

March 22, 2009

City of Columbus

Transparency:  Not one of the better municipal websites on this count.  There is no mention of streaming video of Council meetings where the agendas and other materials are located.  And while they have agendas posted as well as highlights, bulletins and other materials, its not clear that they have actual minutes of the meetings.  If they have videos and minutes of past meetings, they didn’t make them easy to find. “D”

Feedback: There is a link from the label for “Residents” to “report a problem” but when you get that page its a list of various services with no indication of how you would report a problem. “F”

Richness of Information:  Though its buried on a page for “business” there is an extensive series of links and information made available to building and construction issues including zoning, permits, taxes and inspections.  “B+”

Transacting business: Under the business tab there is a section called, “Starting a Business” which I thought would provide me the information I needed to get a City of Columbus business permit but instead its a series of links to other government sites where I can get information.  I think its a bad idea not to label links that leave the website as such.  “Resources” is the appropriate name for such links.  “D”

Overall: This website is like the old Universal Studio “Main Street” set which looks inviting but once you dip beneath the surface you find doors that don’t open and windows with painted views.  The site is slow to load, has unclear navigation and limited resources.  I was impressed with the building and construction section which allows me to bump up its rating to: “C-“

Salt Lake City Municipal Website

March 15, 2009

Transparency:  There is streaming video of City Council meetings and they are easy to find and they also come as podcasts.  “A”

Feedback:  Its not really encouraged.  You can request a tree trimmed and the form is very simple and easy to use.  There is also a form to report fraud, abuse and waste.  It too is very easy to use.  But that’s pretty limited feedback.  Nothing about abandoned cars, potholes, graffiti, police complaints or the like.  Perhaps this reflects the cleaniness of the city but web reporting would only make it even better. “C+”

Richness of Information:  I looked for building permits and found this section quite easily.  They provide a lot of information about fee schedules, building codes, permits and applications.  They also provide online services to check on permits and applications in areas such as transportation, fire, and engineering.  “A”

Transacting business: Salt Lake City allows you to obtain a business permit online.  They also provide lots of instructional material and options including chatting with someone online.  The forms are easy to understand and use.  They could use a breadcrumb trail so you can see how much you need to do but that’s minor quibble about a very clean and simple process that few other municipalities provide.  “A”

Overall:This is an excellent website for a city any size but particularly for a relatively small city.  Its very easy to navigate with great information, easy-to-use forms and good use of online transactions.  The only downside is the relatively lack of feedback.  “A-“

Minneapolis City Website

March 8, 2009

City of Minneapolis

Transparency:  City council meetings are easy to find from the home page.  There is a link to City Council agendas from a pull-down menu from the “City Council” link.   However, the videos of the meetings aren’t integrated with the agendas.  You find those once you select the City Council meetings when you click on “Watch your government in action!”  “B+”

Feedback:  From the home page there is a link called, “Report issues and complaints” which lists about 15 drop-down choices including abandoned vehicles, cable service, potholes and graffiti.  Unfortunately, the online reporting form has several screen and it isn’t clear how many are involved or how many questions have to be answered from the first screen.  “B”

Richness of information:  From the home page you can click on “Business” and get to a link for “building permits online.”  It tells you what kinds of permits you can get online and how to set up your account etc.  But its not so easy to find out what permits you can’t get online or where to go for a comprehensive list of building permits and related issues.  “C”

Transacting business:   Its clear from the “Business” page where to go to find out information about business licenses.  They don’t allow you to get a business license online but unlike the business permit page, they clearly spell out what you need a license for and what you don’t.  “B+”

Overall: The City of Minneapolis has easy and clear navigation.  I never struggled to find out where to go for information and the site is well-integrated.  They do allow a user to perform some functions online but using those features could be easier. “B+”

Phoenix City Website

February 22, 2009

City of Phoenix

Transparency:  Phoenix has video available but its not connected to the City Council homepage and I didn’t find any evidence of City Council meeting videos.  However, it easy to navigate to the City Council page and the information that is available including agendas, minutes and reports is easily available and well presented. “B-“

Feedback: They do have “e-services” which allow citizens to sign up for reports, pay water bills and get accident reports.  Pretty limited ability to connect electronically with the city. “C”

Richness of Information:  Unlike with some municipal websites, it was relatively easy to find the section dealing with building issues.  Once you click on “Businesses” from the home page, there is a link on the left sidebar for “Development Guide.”  This takes the visitor to a page with lots of links and a list of construction topics.  Oddly, at the top level there is a link for a “sign permit” but the information on building permits is buried among the construction topics.  It would make more since to surface “building permits” and include sign permits among them.  Once you get to the building permit section, the information is clear, useful and seemingly comprehensive.  “B”

Transacting business: It appears that Phoenix doesn’t require all businesses to obtain a license when operating in the city.  It pretty easy to navigate to the business license section from a header on the “Businesses” page called “Business Licenses.”  It take the visitor to a page called, “Liquor and other regulated business licenses.”  I think its strange that they create a page which covers a number of different licenses and group under “Liquor.”  Perhaps the liquor license is the most popular but then why not create a separate link to a liquor license page while calling the page with all the licenses, “Regulated business licenses?”  Phoenix has online information available but you have to go to the city offices to obtain the license.  “B-“

Overall:  The Phoenix city website is well-integrated with a clear, easy layout and decent navigation.  It contains good brochure-type information about city services but doesn’t allow the citizens to conduct much business with the city.  Also, I noticed a confusion in a couple places about how to structure content.  There is a tendency to elevate links to relatively obscure information – like types of permits and licenses and obscure links to more relevant information.  “B-“

Detroit municipal website review

February 15, 2009

City of Detroit

Transparency:  Detroit does make past City Council meetings available on video.  They also make agendas available but I couldn’t find minutes of past meetings.  There are a few navigational challenges starting with the City Council having its own website that’s not integrated with the municipal website.  The video link is a sidebar that requires lots of paging through if you are looking for older videos.  There is a calendar but the videos aren’t linked.  “B-“

Feedback: Online services are limited to submitting and inquiring about police complaints.  The complaint form is fairly straightforward but its unclear what happens after you hit “continue.”  More questions? Or will you be informed about the process once the submission has happened?  “C-“

Richness of Information:  I went looking for building permits and first, I wasn’t sure what department; planning? no.  Then I searched for permits and the search results were worthless.  I couldn’t tell what kind of information I was getting.  Then I searched on city departments and clicked on “Buildings and Safety Engineering Department.”  I still wasn’t sure what I would learn about building permits but they had a link to “Building codes/construction” and bingo, there was lots of great information about permits.  I would like to give Detroit a better grade as they have good information about the permit process but getting a building permit is a basic city function and it should be a lot easier to find this information on their website.  “C-“

Transacting business:  Its much easier to find out about obtaining a business license and the necessary steps involved.  From the link “Business” you are given another link “business licenses” on the sidebar and that page has a wealth of good information about the steps involved and relevant links.  Unfortunately, a business can’t register for a license online however, the page explains where to go and the number to call for that information.  “B+”

Overall:  There is a lot of good information on the Detroit City Website and they are upfront about what’s available and what isn’t.  For example, once I clicked on “Online Services” its clear that they don’t provide too many and not much reporting at all.  However, there is good content in the business and planning sections.  They have loaded lots of reports and useful information for residents and businesses.  The navigation needs an overhaul as does the very poor search function.  Get rid of “mission statements” on department homepages.  People want relevant content and functionality.  If you want to provide a link to the mission statement, that’s fine but don’t make me read it when I come to your department page.  I want help not buzzwords.  “C+”

Sunday specials: Mile high city

February 1, 2009

City of Denver:

Transparency:  On the home page for the City Council there is a list of meeting dates for 2009 with links to the agendas and minutes where appropriate.  I didn’t see a link to an archive of previous year meetings.   There is a feature called, “Denver 8 Online” which follows city government.  Unfortunately, its not clear from the City Council meetings page that videos of the past meeting are available for viewing.  You have to go to “Denver 8 Online” and look at the different types of City Council meetings and pick “General Government Committee Meeting” which I am assuming is the regular city council meetings but there is no explanation.  While it looks like they provide agendas, minutes and videos, its not easy to access from a single webpage.  “C+”

Feedback: Denver is like other cities in not posting or encouraging user comments.  As an aside, I’m surprised I haven’t seen any city or mayor with a public blog.  A citizen can report a crime online through the police department but first you need to provide them with your email address and they have a series of online forms to fill out.  Like most other municipal websites, they fail to tell you from the first form, what information you will need to provide them or how many online forms there are to fill out.  Still, this is a useful online tool.  “B”

Richness of Information:  From the home page sidebar there is a label for “Building and Construction” that took me to the “Building and Construction” page which is a series of useful links for permits, contracting, records and the like.   I clicked on “Building and Construction Permits” and it take me to a page which is also a series of links to the various types of building permits.  Its a bit disappointing when I finally get to the end page, “Zoning Permits” and it just gives me an email and phone contact.  Couldn’t that information have been provided on the first page of the Building and Construction page?  “B-“

Transacting business: Up until I wanted to do get a business license, I was pleased that the Denver municipal website was integrated.  Other cities (that will remain nameless) took me to different websites with confusing navigation schemes. I was pleased that didn’t happen with Denver.  Then I went to “business services” and clicked on “Small and Disadvantaged Business Resources,” and it took me to a different website; “” which has a different navigation and layoff from the main site.  From there, I can find out what forms I need and access the forms but ultimately I have to fill them out by hand and mail them in.  “C+”

Overall: Until I sought out a business license, I was pleased with the consistency of the navigational experience of the Denver municipal website.  I liked the side navigational bar that stayed in place where ever I was on the website.  It is  also more focused on what functions citizens want to perform with their city than they are providing extraneous information about the city government.  For example, the building and construction section doesn’t focus on the various city offices with a photo of their desk but on specific types of permits and processes.  There aren’t many tasks that can be performed online.  Most things require a stamp.  Related to that problem is that the website pretends to be more interactive than it is.  It takes you to pages where you think you will able to interact with the city only to be given a phone number and email.  The website should promote that information upfront and not waste people’s time clicking on links.  “B-“

Sunday special: City of Miami Website

January 25, 2009

City of Miami

Transparency:The good news – excellent resources for following Miami’s City Comission (their equivalent of the City Council).  They not only have agendas, minutes AND videos of the meetings, they also allow visitor to track meetings through RSS feeds.  And they also have a promenient search feature at the page.  The bad news – its not clear from the home page that the city commission IS the equivalent of a city council.  Worse, when I figured out to click on “commission agenda’s” it took me to another website from which I then navigated back to the main website but not really.  Very confusing.  “B-“

feedback: Not good.  First, the home page doesn’t list out common issues – like reporting potholes or graffiti etc.  Of course, once I searched the site, I realized why; citizen can’t report anything from the website other than emailing city officials. “D”

Richness of Information:   I looked for information about planning permits.  First off, on the left navigation sidebar, there is a heading for “Class II Permits” but not “permits.”  After browsing the planning department site, I found, “land development” which lists out information about permits.  But it isn’t clear that the permits discussed on this page are a comprehensive set of permits.  In addition, the writing is confusing and opaque.  Here is an example:  “Class II Special Permits apply to issues related to design, character, and compatibility of a proposed application as specified within different sections of the Zoning Ordinance and the City Code.”  “D”

Transacting business: Argh.  I had to use the search function and even then it wasn’t easy to find how to obtain a business license.  From the home page, I have go into the “business” label on the left sidebar.  Then I had  to know that business licenses could be found under “economic development” and when that page opens, its called” economic initiatives” not “economic development.”  From there, I needed to realize I need to click on “small business toolkit” as my choice on the left navigational sidebar.  Then I saw a label for “get licensed” and a long section of tiny print appears detailing issues – in no particular order – that discuss getting licensed with a series of phone numbers.  Extremely poor.  “F”

Overall:  This is the worst municipal site I have analyzed.  The only redeeming feature is the excellent page dealing with the City Commission even if the navigation to it is poor.  But bad navigation is the rule with this website.  It is frequently difficult to navigate back to the home page.  Instead, once you are in a particular section, you can only get to the section’s homepage.  The print on the webpages is tiny.  The writing is worse and the website is oblivious to the users who come to the site for answers or to do business with the city.  There is virtually no ability to interact with the city government online and very little effort to even educate citizens about the functions of municipal government.  “D”

Philadelphia: City website rates a “C”

January 18, 2009

City of Philadelphia:

Transparency:  I knew I was in trouble when I clicked on “City Council” at the Philadelphia City website and a new window open upon a different and more primitive website.  There is no good reason why the city council should have its own website.  Worse, the home page contains two introductory paragraphs that in no way help citizens orient themselves or determine whether they are getting the information they need from the webpage.  Videotapes of past meetings?  Yes. but after waiting a half hour, a session hadn’t loaded. These videos are not connected to the collection of Council minutes or agendas.  There are separate, cumbersome search pages for those.  “C”

Feedback: Philadelphia has made it possible to both fill out reports on a variety of health and safety issues from sanitation to abandoned vehicles to narcotics complaints.  They even have a search mechanism to look up existing forms.   They provide more opportunities to engage its citizens about routine reporting matters than any site I’ve seen.  Some of the forms provide navigational aids as you fill them in showing an informative breadcrumb trail as you fill in the various screens.  However, not all the form employ the same approach which leads to confusion.  Also, I noticed that some forms were extremely detailed which defeats the purpose of web-based reporting which should provide a start of the reporting process not its completion and should encourage people to fill out the form on the web not discourage them by making them spend a half an hour filling out a form.  “B+”

Richness of information:  I look for an office of City Planning that would involve building issues.  It wasn’t easy though there was a long drop down list of city departments.  Finally, I found it under “Department of Public Property.”  The description for this department claims its responsible for building city property as well as related functions.   This page contains the “mission” which describes what this department does and a “news” section which says, “check back soon!”   I think sites that do that are lame.  Just hide the section.  Why point out to users that you haven’t got your act together?  And what is “soon?”  Tomorrow?   Next week or next month?  2011?  My guess is that if I check back in February I’ll see that same sentence with the exclamation mark and I will think this department double lame. 

But that’s not the only problem with this page.  The left sidebar contains a series of links which aren’t helpful in breaking down the various functions that a city property department handles.  Instead it lists things like, “Art in Philadelphia” and “Real Estate” and “Visual Philly.”  What about links organized around “planning”  “maintainence” “building” ? The right side bar has more links but they are to things like streaming video to the public access channel and “Visual Philly” which is also listed on the other side.  I have a feeling these links aren’t specific to this department and don’t help further education the user as what this department does.  “D”

Transacting business:   I’m still shaking my head over this one.   A common function for a city is licensing its businesses and making it easy to collect their taxes.  But Philadelphia doesn’t make it easy for the user to find where to go for a general business license or how to engage online with the city to fill it out.  From the home page there is a link called “Business.”  I clicked on that link and at the top of that page is something called, “Business News Headlines” which isn’t and then as I scroll down the page I find several links that might allow me to license my business.  However, none of them make it easy for to determine first, if they are the right link or second, provide a subsequent page that makes me believe I’m on the right track.  I either get very specific information about downloading a variety of very specific but irrelevant forms or I get punted to a different department where I have to start all over.  (Just like in the real, bureaucratic world.) 

If I go back to the home page after abandoning the “Business” link I see on the left sidebar a list of licenses links but none of them are related to licensing my business.  Worse, after spending 15-2o minutes with the website, I’m not sure what department I go to in person to apply for my business license.  “D”

Overall:   I noticed that the Philly site received an award from MuniNet as a “top pick” website which surprised me.  Then I looked at the document date at the bottom of the page and it read, “02-10-03.”  I went to MuniNet’s top picks and found the Philadelphia’s site listed among the top picks for “2002.”  They are still touting their website creds from more than six years ago.  In Internet years that’s like the roaring twenties. 

To be fair, this is a website with lots of content.  They have attempted to provide users with the ability to report on lots of different issues that confront them in daily life.   However, the website is clearly a federation of web-fiefdoms, each with their own agenda and navigational structure.  This makes it it difficult for the user to navigate, to learn what they can do on this website or more generally even understand how their government makes their lives better.  “C”

Sunday Special: City of Houston

January 4, 2009

City of Houston:

Transparency:  Apparently there is no video or audio archive of City Council meetings.  No real-time video and audio archives either.  They do post upcoming and past city council meeting agendas but no meeting minutes.  “C-“

Feedback: Like other city websites, Houston doesn’t appear to encourage posting of other citizens’ complaint or concerns. However, also like other municipal websites,  a citizen can report on broken parking meters and street light outages.  The link for reporting grafitti is broken.  On the plus side, Texas has a Public Information Act which allows citizens to request information from a government entity regarding existing reports.  The City of Houston does a good job of listing the relevant agency, the type of information available and the department’s contact information. “B-“

Richness of information:  I went to “Public Works and Engineering” which has an impressive amount of information about the divisions, water rates, sewage and projects.  Unfortunately, most of the best information requires the user to scroll to the bottom of the page to find it because the introductory section is a long block of text. “B-“

Transacting business: I went to the link “One stop business center” from the “Business” tab and the page has the hours of the office scrolling across the top of the page and a photo of the department (two empty chairs and the counter) and a phone number. Along the side are links to pdf documents called “Getting Started Packet 1” and “Getting Started Packet 2.” It took quite awhile to download the first packet and the front page explains that there is no general City of Houston business license.  Beyond that, the document contains a lot of random information.  It didn’t strike me as a “Getting started packet.”  I also wonder why some of the information couldn’t have been included on the web-page rather than hidden away in a pdf.   It would good to know without having to download the packet that there is no general City of Houston business license.  “D-“

Overall:  The City of Houston has lots of information and the basic layout of the website is intuitive and easy on the eye. However, once I delved into individual sections, there are a number that are “under construction,” contain broken links and have poor layouts.  “C-“