- PalmBayFlorida.org is a top-notch web portal; what has been your role in its development?
In late 2006, I was given the opportunity to take over the web site duties. I wanted to move the site from the generic template based design to one that gave a consistent brand while displaying a variety of images throughout Palm Bay. In April 2007, the City of Palm Bay web site redesign project began after many months of research. The redesign project lasted about 7 months and I worked with a consulting firm to complete this project. My role was to plan, develop, and create a web site that would better serve the citizens with greater emphasis on e-government. I wanted to create a site that offered “one-stop shopping” and customer-oriented principles in the web design.
- Can you summarize the history of Palm Bay's web portal?
In 1997, the site began as just a one or two page site with very little information on it. It was outsourced at the time and wasn’t updated very frequently. By 2000, as the Internet began to gain popularity the City decided to enhance the site and had a full-time person assigned to maintaining and updating the site. In October 2007, we introduced the current site and there is one web administrator who is responsible for the site and at least 14 city staff from the various departments who update content.
- What are the overarching objectives of Palm Bay's current e-government initiatives?
To offer our constituents and businesses multiple access points to city services by creating a government without walls, doors, or clocks. We have many services available 24/7 via the web site and an interactive voice response (IVR) system for those wishing to access services via telephone.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by PalmBayFlorida.org, both on- and off-line?
The City is always looking for new ways to reach the people. Areas such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and You Tube to name just a few are very popular and we have seen success with our public safety departments who utilize these methods. Ensuring that the information posted online is always accurate and current is extremely important to the City. Of course we have the traditional methods like sending out press releases to the media and email to our listserv members. Anyone driving on Palm Bay’s main roadways can get information from signs posted in the medians. We also get the message out by using bumper stickers on city vehicles. Drive by city hall and the marquee will have upcoming council meeting information scrolling across it. Palm Bay has been featured in local newspapers and by government and leadership organizations such as ICMA. Frequently we use telephone town halls to connect to citizens with information of great importance such as a recent change to our sanitation service.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Palm Bay's e-government services?
Through customer feedback we know that the easier we make something the more likely they will be to use it. We also know that one size doesn’t fit all. Some people totally embrace the online payment capabilities and others prefer to drop off or mail payments. Several years ago Mike Maier, CIO began holding technology focus groups with citizens to hear what the needs of the citizens were with respect to technology. This really helped us shape the way we rolled out services to our citizens.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
Our online services section of the web is very popular. Just one click from the home page and you can see a list of items from each department in the city that is available online. For example, Water and sewer customers can pay their utility bills online, business owners can renew their business taxes online, and residents can sign up for a class at the community center, file a police report, or submit a request to repair a pot hole.
- What led you to provide your citizens the opportunity to learn more about the city's affairs through city coucil meeting and other department videos?
Making the meetings accessible online increases access to government for those that are unable for whatever reason to attend the actual meeting. The video archival section is also a great way for anyone to hear for themselves what is said during these meetings. Transparency is a very hot topic in government and is taken very seriously in Palm Bay. We want our citizens to be informed and be able to access information easily anytime that is convenient for them. Council members were very supportive when we began this service and it has really helped our local government officials be accountable to the citizens.
- In developing Palm Bay's portal, what were some of the obstacles that you ran in to? How did you overcome them?
Probably the biggest obstacle was maintaining the existing site while trying to find time to develop the new one. Fortunately, I was able to team up with two web design professionals whom I have the greatest respect. Janet Slominski, a web designer and Denise Smith, a graphic designer both of Wade Trim assisted me throughout the redesign project.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Palm Bay's web portal?
Today we live in a very busy society who loves their mobile apps and instant access to the Internet anywhere, anytime. The City of Palm Bay will be looking to emerging technologies to extend and expand the ability of government to provide information and services to residents, businesses, civic groups, and other interested parties. We are very interested in how we can engage 2-way communication with the citizenry. I believe we will be moving towards Gov2.0, utilizing social media sites to communicate with our constituents.
- What else that you would like to tell us about PalmBayFlorida.org?
The City of Palm Bay recently developed http://open.palmbayflorida.org, an online interactive database that allows users to view and search the City’s financial information. Anyone can go online and obtain information and key documents about how the City spends tax dollars and other revenues. We are very proud of this site and have had positive feedback from everyone who has accessed the site. In July 2010, the National League of Cities featured us in a brief entitled “Using Technology to Promote Transparency in City Government”.