Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Richardson Website to get Makeover

The public got a glimpse of what Richardson's Director of Communications has been up to since his hire early this year. At that time, I had a few suggestions for him. The first suggestion, one that I called "low-hanging fruit," was a major redesign of the city's website. At this week's city council work session, we learned that the city has been, ever so slowly, working in that direction.

After the jump, what the website designers ought to do.

Redesigning the overall look of the website, improving navigation and search, modernizing the calendar and notification system, upgrading the content management system to make it easier for city staff to publish information, all that is well and good, but what's really needed is what I called for in January: "to open government, to disintermediate government and empower residents to learn and understand what their government is doing for them and involve them in the work."

Here's my challenge for the city: implement a system that makes fulfilling open records requests trivial and, in most cases, unnecessary to involve city staff at all. Any data that is subject to open records requests should, upon creation, be made available to the public via the city's website. Members of the public should be able to search public records themselves, rather than submit a request that is fulfilled by an intermediary on the city staff.

In other words, don't give us an electronic version of a bulked up, splashy, interactive Richardson Today. Give us a login to the city's own computer system. I'm sure it already supports different access levels for different categories of employees. Add one more level for the public, who should be given access to all information subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

Perhaps City Council member Bob Macy could champion this suggestion. At a council meeting this year, he asked about the cost of meeting open records requests. Assuming he's really interested in controlling cost and not looking for reasons to suppress public access to public information, he should look favorably on a suggestion that would allow the public to service their own open records requests, thus eliminating the need for city staff to do it. Mr. Macy, how about it?

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