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Government office communicating with public

April 12, 2011
By Sam Shawver ( , The Marietta Times

Thanks to ever-advancing technology, communicating with the public has become a lot easier for local governments. The cities of Marietta and Belpre, as well as Washington County, all maintain Web sites that provide citizens with a host of information.

"But you would not believe how many people still don't know the city has a Web site," said Scott Steinel, hardware and software administrator for the city of Marietta.

"We've had a site for at least six or seven years now, and the new active site is about two years old," he said.

Steinel noted that the city Web site provides access to an entire array of information and services, including a speeding and crime tip line where citizens can report crimes anonymously; a nuisance complaint section to report blighted properties; flood information and real-time camera monitoring of river levels; and access to city job opportunities.

"You can pay water and sewer bills online or look at the city's codified ordinances," Steinel said. "And people can register cell phones for the CAN (Community Alert Network) system."

The reverse 911 call-down CAN system, in place for about three years now, alerts neighborhoods and residents to impending floods and other disasters, and has been used to recommend lockdowns when there is known criminal activity in specific areas of the city.

"We're also now looking into a system that would allow us to text cell phone alerts to any one person or an entire group of people," Steinel said.

"We want people to make use of the city Web site, and we're always looking at ways to improve it," he said. "But it takes money, and upgrades are often a matter of funding. But stay tuned - there's more to come."

Eric Skomra, IT director for Washington County, said efforts are underway that will eventually result in a total rebuild of the county's Web site.

"We've gone through a complete redesign and will soon be going out for requests for proposals to do a rebuild of the site," he said. "The current Web site can't be easily updated by employees because it's very costly, so it doesn't get updated."

Skomra said the new site will allow someone from every division to update information on what's new in that department at any time.

"We have a lot of independent sites in the county now," he said. "They're offshoots that may or may not continue after the new county site is developed. It will all depend on whether the new site can provide services at better cost for the departments."

Currently county offices like the sheriff's department and board of elections maintain their own Web sites that can be updated more easily than the current county site.

Skomra said it will take some time to completely build the new Web site, but the infrastructure on which the site will be constructed is already being laid out, and some improvements should be completed within the next couple of months.

"We're moving all of our e-mail systems and other infrastructure to Google Apps, where we'll be able to share more information with the public," he said. "For example, a citizen may want to interact with the county government by sharing a document -that can be done with this system.

"Moving all of our e-mail and other communications to Google Apps would be a huge savings for county government," Skomra added.

"The only other option for us would be to create our own e-mail system and pay fees year to year to maintain our licensing for that system as well as the records retention we're required to maintain. Our costs would escalate tremendously," he said.

Using the Google Apps system, Skomra said all county employees would be using the same e-mail addressing system.

"Right now the county is using upward of seven separate e-mail providers," he said. "This would really bring everything together."

Skomra said currently his department is working on educating county employees on how to use the Google Apps system which should be available within the next two months.

"This will also put in place some of the pieces we'll need for the eventual complete rebuild of the Web site," he said.



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