Littletongov.org has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top city government websites in the state of Colorado. Below you'll find an interview with Kelli Narde, Director of Communications, and Cathy Weaver, Webmaster for the City of Littleton.
- Littletongov.org is a top-notch web portal. What has been your role in its development?
Cathy: I designed and built the site from the ground up, including formatting, architecture, and programming. I get a lot of input from Kelli Narde and other people in my department, but I draw it, I code it, I take many of the pictures, and I put it all online.
- Can you summarize the history of Littleton's web portal?
Cathy: I was hired in September 1999, and the web site went live in August 2000.
- What have been some of the overarching objectives of Littleton's current e-government initiatives?
Kelli: Transparency in government is a primary interest of the Littleton City Council. I would contend that we televise, stream live on the web site, and make available for later viewing on demand, more meetings than any other city our size. We televise and stream all of our city council meetings and study sessions, all of our planning commission meetings and study sessions, and all of our licensing authority meetings and study sessions. And that's just kind of the tip of the iceberg. Almost anytime the city council meets in the Littleton Center, for whatever purpose, we televise it. I think open access to the activity of our local government is of great importance to our city council.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Littleton's e-government services?
Cathy: In the early planning stages, we had at least one focus group to gather ideas for the web site. We also receive occasional emails with suggestions. If the suggestion is something that we can do at little or no cost, and will benefit a large number of people, then we look at implementing it.
- What are some of the strategies you've utilized to draw attention not only to the services, but also the information provided by your web site both on and off line?
Kelli: We do a lot of cross-marketing. In the last twelve months, we have entered into the world of social media with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for the city. We publish The Littleton Report, a newspaper that is mailed to 25,000 postal patrons six times per year. We also have a government television channel for which we produce six to eight programs per year. These are some of the tools that we use to communicate with our citizens. Because Littleton is a small suburb of Denver, the daily newspaper and the local television stations do not pay much attention to us unless something really big is going on. It is up to us, the city manager’s office staff, to inform our citizens. Cross-promoting with the different tools has been pretty successful for us. In the early planning stages, we had at least one focus group to gather ideas for the web site. We also receive occasional emails with suggestions. If the suggestion is something that we can do at little or no cost, and will benefit a large number of people, then we look at implementing it.
- In what ways has harnessing social media allowed you to connect more directly and personally with the citizens of Littleton?
Cathy: The popularity of social media sites has allowed me to publish short, pertinent information quickly, without having to go through the time-consuming process of creating and/or editing a web page, and then hope people see it. We know that our Facebook page sees a lot of visitors. Posting to Facebook and Twitter pushes information out to citizens who might not consider visiting our web site. For example, tonight there is a benefit concert at our Town Hall Arts Center which was advertised on Facebook and Twitter. Tomorrow there is a community walk at the local park. Again, this was easily promoted on our social media sites.
Kelli: As the communications director, my motivation to get us involved in social media was using it for emergency notifications. I remember when that plane went down in the Hudson River and one of the passengers on the plane was sending messages on Twitter while he was floating on the river. That was really my first awareness of Twitter. If something really terrible happened, what is the quickest way we can get information to people? Fortunately we have not had the need to use it for an emergency.
That said, I think what Cathy is doing with it is great. Last winter we had a big snowstorm and she went outside with a ruler, stuck it in the snow, snapped a picture, and posted to our Facebook page to show how deep the snow was in front of city hall. She is committed to posting a message to Twitter every single day. I think she has been very innovative in finding ways to use social media beyond emergencies.
- Why did you choose to implement the Cupola Cam? And how does it allow citizens to interact with the community?
Kelli: The 1906 Arapahoe County Courthouse sat vacant from the early 1980s until the late 1990s. In 1998, the decision was made to renovate it rather than tear it down. It was finished and rededicated as the Littleton Municipal Courthouse in the year 2000. We are very, very proud of that courthouse. I was on the renovation team, and during the renovation I was up in that cupola a few times. You can see the entire Rocky Mountain Front Range from up there, and it is spectacular. That was about the same time that we were getting our web site off the ground. I announced that I wanted to put a camera in the cupola of the courthouse. At that time, a live web cam was pretty innovative for a city web site. Our IT people looked at me like I had lost my mind. It was my idea, but I had absolutely no idea how technologically challenging it would be. However, Cathy, along with our video producer, and our IT people figured it out. Cathy can tell you some of the really touching stories of people that use it.
Cathy: Cupola Cam is unique because it is one of the few city web cams that stream a live view of the city. There are many web cams that take a picture every minute or two, but this is actually a live video stream. We had a big parade down Main Street last Saturday; around 80,000 people come to Littleton to see it. My father couldn’t make it, so he watched the festivities on Cupola Cam. The camera has about thirty pre-set views that allow the visitor to move the camera around to pre-set locations and see different views. You can actually see live video of Main Street, the mountains or downtown Denver. The camera can even turn around 180 degrees and look east to see the sunrise.
One day I heard from a lady whose father lived far away in another state. For his birthday, the family came down to Main Street and stood next a sculpture in the median, called their dad on a cell phone, and told him to get on to the Cupola Cam and point it at the statue. When he was ready, they all waved and held up signs that said “Happy Birthday!” That statue is in the median of a busy street, so when I heard that story, I had the city’s sign department create a sign that says: "Offical Cupola Cam Greeting Site," and had it mounted it in a safe location at the foot of the courthouse steps. I created a pre-set view on the Cupola Cam page to that spot so now locals can gather in a safe place and wave to far-away friends who are watching on Cupola Cam.
In term of camera control, you click a button to enter the queue, and when it is your turn you have 90 seconds to select any of the thirty views from a drop-down menu. The camera moves quickly and automatically focuses. There are also buttons that control zoom in and out.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next two to three years and are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Littleton's web portal?
Kelli: I guess I would just describe it as just “more.” More and more of what we do is being diverted to the web site or is complimented by the web site. We recently launched an application that allows people to pay parking tickets online, saving them a trip down to our municipal court. We recently began allowing citizens to pay their sewer and storm water utility bills online. We have the third largest sewer treatment plant in the state of Colorado, so the number of sewer customers we serve is far greater than our population. That ability has really taken a lot of pressure off the staff in the finance department. We are hoping that, as more citizens become comfortable with e-government and doing transactions with the city online, that more people will begin to use it, and that will take some of the pressure off the staff. So I just see us doing more and more and more online.
Cathy: Another feature that we hope to launch this year is the Online Police/Cold Incident Report application, which will allow citizens to report non-emergency property crimes online. This will relieve police officers from having to go out in person to take a report for lost cell phones, or other minor incidents.
Kelli: Another thing we've done with police department this year is launch CrimeReports.com. All our crime analysis is now done electronically. You can enter any Littleton address into the system and tell it to show “every burglary that occurred that's within two miles of this address in the last six months,” and it will report all the data, both statistically and visually. We have had a lot of positive feedback for this feature. We also have the registered sex offenders online. The database includes a physical description, license plate numbers, and addresses. We have had a lot of positive feedback from citizens about that too.
- Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about Littletongov.org?
Cathy: Well, we have a couple of the other unique features on our web site. There is a working weather station on the roof of the city hall, and we post live weather updates every 15 minutes. The closest “official” weather station is about 40 miles away, so it is nice that visitors can go to that page and see actual Littleton weather. The weather page is one of the most popular pages on the whole site; in July it was the number two page.
Another unique feature we have is an e-postcard system. We have about 120 local photographs available on the e-postcard system. You just select a picture, type in your message and an email address, and send it. It automatically creates an e-postcard and sends a link the recipient.