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Palo Alto Communications -- Proposal to form a communications steering committee

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Palo Alto is one of the first cities that established a WEB. As time passed this site has grown but some citizens have expressed their impression that the communication between the city and its citizens could be improved. This page is an attempt to gather what ever information there is about the "history" of such discussions in preparation for considering whether a Steering Committee should be formed that would assist the city's IT department in determining how the communication might be improved and how they could obtain the resources to upgrade this communication.

2002 -- Minutes of two meeting held in 2002 to discuss communications

May 3, 2004 -- City manager's Report on Public Communications -- CMR: 235:04

In response to Council concerns, public communications staff conducted an internal review of publications, focusing on identifying ways to reduce costs while maintaining and enhancing open communication with residents, which is increasingly important during difficult times. This review was done with the cooperation of all City departments, under the guidance of the City Auditor. This report includes recommendations and an implementation strategy.


My thoughts (Mike Liveright Mailto)

My recommendation is to study this history, recommend that some money be allocated for the budget to allow a steering committee direct to improve the City - Citizen communication, and then ask for volunteers who feel that they would be willing to serve on such a committee. The purpose of this committee would be to:

    1. Gather together suggestions from the citizens,
    2. Determine which the committee felt were valuable (and communicate this determination to a mailing list to the citizens)
    3. Evaluate the cost of implementing such suggestions (based on feedback from city)
    4. Suggest which suggestions seem to be cost effective and recommend that they be implemented.

I think the committee would be formed of say:

  1. 5 Citizens
  2. Advisory city council member(s) (as they felt they wanted to attend)
  3. Representatives of the IT department (again as they wanted)
  4. A mailing list/ Internet discussion forum that would accept suggestions, allow discussion of these suggestions, and contain the comments/recommendations of the committee.
  5. A pointer to the committee on the City Web site.

It seems to me that there are a number of areas that should be investigated further.

  1. Increase the E-government capability of Palo Alto, e.g. providing more Citizen to City formal communication so that the citizens can fill out forms on line to get things done with the city.
  2. Increase the Information available on the WEB. The city does a good job of putting up lots of information on the WEB now, but there are some dynamic information items that are not available as they are generated or perhaps ever. I'd like to see more of these available on the WEB, e.g.
    1. Citizen to and from Council E-mails -- In general these are public but there is no electronic record of these but they are printed out the friday before an item is ready for city council action -- I'd like to have these E-mails be logged, as those between the City Attorney and the Council,
    2. Police reports -- There is a book of all the police reports that can be viewed in the Council hall, and this seems to be computer generated. It would be nice if this was available on the WEB so that a citizen who was interested could see them.
    3. Pages added and Updated -- There is a "What's New" but this is human generated and it would be nicer if there was also an automatic way for a citizen to see whenever a page was added, deleted, or changed so that they could follow the electronic history of the city.
  3. Improve the WEB site -- It has been a while since the web site was upgraded relative to its format, and possibly its Content Management System. I have had some suggestions about some better organization, other users have suggested that other cities sites are better laid out or that the CMS system for our city may make it difficult to add/update/remove data from it. -- The committee could investigate this and, in cooperation with the IT department recommend minor changes and possibly fund more major improvements.
  4. Other???

After I study the past history of this effort, I will add more detail below:


Another resident suggested the following:

Dear Finance Committee,

I ask that you recommend a budget allocation sufficient to redesign our City website within the next fiscal year. Economic realities provide a strong incentive to use technology in new ways that will achieve cost-savings through efficiencies, and enhance revenue. Our present site is cumbersome for residents and business users alike.

As an alternate for your review, the City of Sunnyvale's site, at http://www.sunnyvale.ca.gov/, seems exceptionally easy to navigate and also markets that city well. The site prominently features online services. Home page links include the following:

"Available Commercial Properties," where users can specify whether they're searching to lease or buy, their type of use (everything from senior housing to lodging/hospitality to retail), and size and price ranges;

"e-Permits," for online building permit services, including e-plan check status and inspection scheduling, among others;

"e-Resource Guide," an A - Z guide, including the full range of links to hotlines, city contacts, other public agencies and community organizations; and

"Library," for a direct link there.

Shop Sunnyvale is featured among Ongoing Projects. "City Resources" includes a link to Volunteering, promoting city/community teamwork (and cost-saving) that Palo Alto might consider adopting near-term. These are just highlights; overall, I was impressed by the range and accessibility of information on the Sunnyvale site.

Updating Palo Alto's online presence can help to strengthen our City's bottom line and assist the greater community in a number of ways. I ask that you recommend in the upcoming budget an allocation sufficient for a comprehensive website redesign during the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

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May 16, 2004 21:51