Posts Tagged ‘Sunshine Resources’

San Jose City Website

April 19, 2009

Transparency:  Like many cities, you have to search to find videos of the city council meetings.  They aren’t available or linked from the City Council page.  You have to know to click on “open government” to find the video archives but at least they have them. “B”

Feedback:  There are a few opportunities to provide feedback to the city about plighted property, abandoned vehicles and an online police report.  Not only is it a pretty limited set of items but you have to guess that you would find them under “Online Forms.”  “C”

Richness of information: They have a very comprehensive section for the planning department include the ability to search and apply for permits online.  You need to register with them to access the permit application section.  They also have extensive information about various aspect of the building process including substantive areas such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical but also process information as well.  My only criticism is that it could be easier to find a link from the home page.  Instead, you have to go through city departments to find it.  “A-“

Transacting business:  There is a form “Registration Form for Business Tax” that can be filled out online but has to be submitted by mail or in-person.   There is a link from the home pages for “business information” and from there its pretty easy to find the form and other information about registering your business with the city.  “B”

Overall: San Jose is in the heart of the Silicon Valley and given its access to cutting-edge technology, I was surprised at how average the website is.  They aren’t particularly strong on providing interactivity for various aspects of doing business with the City but they do have a fair amount of information.  I didn’t find the website that easy to navigate either; you are frequently taken off the main URL and its not always clear where to go for information from the home page.  “B-“ releases 200 million government records

April 14, 2009

“Center has enhanced its online campaign finance profiles for members of Congress. Visitors to now have three options for viewing the top industries and contributors supporting a particular lawmaker: 1) money raised by the politician’s campaign committee, 2) money raised by the politician’s leadership PAC or 3) money raised by the campaign and PAC combined. More than 300 members of Congress are also linked to a political action committee, ostensibly to raise money to support other members of their party.”


City of Atlanta Website

April 12, 2009

City of Atlanta:

Transparency: Atlanta handles videos of it City Council the right way; they integrate the videos of council meeting with the agendas and minutes.  Its all together under one tab.  My only criticisms are that the label “legislation” is misleading as agenda meetings aren’t the same as the laws that are passed.  I would use the term “Activities.”    I also think that having the council pages on a separate website where its difficult to return to the municipal website’s homepage is a mistake as well.  B+

Feedback: Not much here.  There is a good form to report a pothole.  There is a tab for communication but its all one way; what the city wants to communicate to its citizens and not the other way around.  “C”

Richness of information:  For information about building permits for both residential and commercial, the website is quite weak.  For business permits there is simply a page with links to various approved permits and for residential permits there is a page that discusses the hours of the department.  They do not provide much information about types of permits or what’s required to obtain them. “D”

Transacting business:  It was easy to find out about apply for a business license from the “How do I” pull down on the homepage.  The link provides the forms but they must be filled out off-line and mailed to the appropriate city office.  “C+”

Overall: Atlanta’s municipal website is a mixed bag.  Decent navigation and transparency but not a lot of useful features or information.  Its time for a nice juicy site overhaul.  “C”

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-“

Oakland City Website

March 1, 2009

Since I’m moving here today, my report card is hardly academic!

City of Oakland

Transparency:  There is video of City Council meetings.  There is a calendar that lists meeting dates, whether there is an agenda and video.  All good.  The only improvement I would suggest is to under the homepage link, “Council Agendas & Minutes” to place the calendar directly under that that link.  “A-“

Feedback:  Like all the city websites I’ve visited there is no ability to publicly post questions or concerns so other citizens can read them.  However, at the homepage they have a link called, “Report a problem/Ask a Question.”  And it take you to a form with relatively straightforward questions and they tell you that you will receive a call or email within a few days.  Check boxes include: trash, dead animal, graffiti, barking dog, abandoned vehicle and more.  “B+”

Richness of information: The homepage provides directional navigational links rather than subject-oriented links.  There are four choices about residential, business, visiting Oakland and a link to city services.  There is also four drop down menus that include city department, frequently visited pages, online services, finding a document.  I used the drop down for city departments to find the business permits section which was pretty easy.  But the page itself was disappointing.  No sidebars or links to other pages just long paragraphs of text laidout against an annoying background of a visual of the city.  “C”

Transaction business:   It wasn’t easy finding out what you needed to register as a new business in Oakland.  In fact, I found it under the “Finance and Management Agency” and its a PDF form you have to download that includes instructions.  There is absolutely no information about types of business that need to register, fees, how to pay, what you get or anything.  There isn’t even a phone number to call.  I shouldn’t have to download a form to receive basic information.  “D”

Overall:  This site is a mixed bag; containing strong homepage navigation, a good City Council calendar, a decent feedback form with poor internal navigation and extremely weak content and layout.  The website desperately needs a relaunch.  The busy background has to go and the crude looking pages harken back to the early era when pretty graphics and scrolling text were new and exciting.  Earth to Oakland, the world’s moved on.  “C”

Blogs courtesy of your federal government

February 27, 2009

The Bush administration viewed the Internet as a necessary evil, something that needed to be placated while the Obama adminstration sees the Internet as a key component to its success not only in getting out its message but interacting with citizens, providing accountability, building trust and delivering services.

To this end, I think this page of government blogs will seem antiquated pretty soon but its a start.  Could the government start leading again on Internet innovation now that we have a President who sees the web as a critical and ever-expanding component of our daily lives?

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-“

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 Seattle website

January 11, 2009

City of Seattle:

Transparency:  Seattle has the best City Council page that I’ve reviewed. First, its easy to find from the top right side of the website. Next, they feature a “Council Live” feed from the City Council page and there is also a “Committee & Agenda” tab that takes you to a well-organized list of committees with links to video archives and also has agendas and minutes linked as well.  Best of all, its lists not only full council meeting but specialized committees such as housing and public safety.  “A+”

Feedback:  Sadly, Seattle isn’t cutting edge in this regard.  I’m still looking for the city that posts comments or has an interactive social media element to their website. However, Seattle does provide citizens an easy-to-use form to connect with the Mayor’s office.  There is also on excellent one-page feedback form for the police department.  “B-“

Richness of information: Seattle does an excellent job at both providing great amount of information and instruction on its website and displaying it in a readable way.  Even better, the website provide an excellent overview of how the City government works and how to use and interact with it.  For example, at the “Department of Planning and Development” it provides three clear and useful sections; “Planning,” “Permits” “Compliance” and clearly delineates what kinds of information to expect these sections to contain.  I selected “Permits” and then three more sections appear “Permit Types” “Process Overview” “Inspections” with clear explanations beneath in each area.  Without having spent more than seconds reading through these pages, I learn a great deal about the nature of this departments work and processes.  “A+”

Transacting business:  To apply for a business license, you have to register and then the website takes you through a series of forms.  One thing I liked about this process is that at the top of the page there are a series of tabs that outlines all the steps and as you enter data it shows you where you are in the process.  So often you start a transaction not aware of what you are being asked or how many pages you will have to click through.  “A”

Overall: The City of Seattle has an excellent website; its attractive, easy-to-use, clearly laid-out, with clear and concise information on every page. They provide a wealth of material including video and most importantly the site is gear around providing the user with functionality rather than simply information. For example, there is no big photo of the department head with a long “welcome” page. This is useless and self-serving on a website. Instead there is news and clear explanations of how a department work and how to work with it.  I hope Seattle is also in the forefront of social media and will implement those features to its site soon.  “A”