New Municipal websites

Have to comment on the nice new websites created for the municipalities of Berwick and Argyle as was reported in yesterday’s Register [Too bad the photo in the online article is turned 90 degrees! Two days later and it is STILL topsy turvey ! Quality control anyone?]

A website isn’t anything new – well, not for most of the members of a co-op ready to launch the first in a series of revamped municipal sites this week.

“Some didn’t have them,” admits Bob Ashley, Berwick chief administrative officer and the chairman of a provincial co-op of municipal units working on a common website design.

“A lot of us – especially the smaller ones, with no IT department – shipped them out originally and the sites were one-offs, quickly out-of-date with nobody to maintain them.

“This is just way better.”

The municipalities – 14 in all – teamed up almost five years ago and came up with an early template for municipal information, contacts and calendars, but Ashley says there was a recognized need “to try and increase public engagement” – and bring municipal websites “into the 21st Century.”

In the last year or so, the co-op searched out web designers as far as British Columbia and then hired a project staffer and combined resources with Service Nova Scotia and the Association of Municipal Administrators.

Have to say they have done a very nice job. And we applaud their mission to have interactive sites so that residents can not only be served with information, but have input.

“I want people calling me, I’m inviting suggestions for content – and criticism,” he [Ashley] says, but he’s looking to the future potential for town videos, polls local advertising and a discussion site on local issues he can monitor for feedback to council itself.

The site will also allow visitors to submit their own community information and events, and it will be “simple enough municipal staff will be able” to add new information on their own, in-house. It will also track visitors – like where they’re from and what they’re looking at.

Wonderful. Just what we would like to see. But sometimes the reality doesn’t live up to the hype, so we were anxious to take a look at the sites and see if they lived up to their description. We weren’t disappointed.

We expected them to have a very similar feel but no, they each have their own character, as they should, have with some great photos. No clunky frames, jazzy joomla-based platforms, with great design. Search boxes on both sites make it ultra easy to find information, although the Argyle box is a little less obvious. But they both have nice, well organised, and logical drop down menus as well, especially on the Argyle site. All the Berwick municipal documents are accessed through one link on the main page, for example. Both have a place for a poll [Imagine!] and Berwick has one up asking “How important is it to pursue “Green” energy initiatives?” Both municipalities’ tax rates are easy to find. Nice readable print, lots of links and some interesting information and photos are enough to keep one browsing for a half hour or more.

Both make the Wolfville website look as dull as ditchwater in comparison, especially when we know how much we taxpayers pay for the Town’s IT and the all hype we have heard about e-government. Mostly talk it appears, as the Wolfville website leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to timely information, resident input and modern design.

Note the favicon on the Berwick and Argyle url line – that’s the little icon (picture of the Town crest) next to the addresses. Wolfville doesn’t have one although it is the simplest thing to do (Heck, even we know how to do that!)

We have been saying for some time that the Town website is outdated, not-user friendly or searchable, and offers little to residents or visitors. Someone in the Town Office here should do a little investigating and compare costs. Perhaps Wolfville should add themselves to the list of municipalities in this co-op to avail themselves of this expertise via Service Nova Scotia and Assoc. of Municipal Administrators.

Wouldn’t it be great to have an online forum to discuss issues like policing, student behavior, speeding, vandalism, tax increases, rezoning, etc, etc, etc. Ah, we can dream can’t we. Or maybe just move to Berwick!

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8 responses to “New Municipal websites

  1. Both sites are using Joomla. Nice to see municipalities leveraging the power of Open Source programs. I use Joomla extensively and love it. A good Content Management System like Joomla is perfect for a municipality, especially smaller ones. Once installed, updating with content is no more difficult than blogging. Add-on features such as components and modules are plug-n-play.

    The Berwick site is very nicely done. They just need to turn on the RSS auto-discover in the Syndicate component. Both sites would benefit greatly by adding a Search Engine Friendly component. It would simplify the URLs.

  2. Good suggestions. We’ll make sure Berwick gets them. A site that can be managed simply in house has great potential for interaction with residents and allows for timely updates. We hope to see Wolfville go this way.

  3. I regularly read your blog. Great stuff, even when you’re grumpy!

    Thanks for praising our humble effort to get ahead with our web presence. With no internal IT presence and no time to spare, it’s a challenge for Berwick. Most of the credit should go to Les Coleman, the designer hired by the Association of Professional Administrators.

    I really like the discussion board idea. I’ll look into it. Appreciate the advice from BBS. He/she ought to feel free to call or email me with criticism or suggestion.

    Anyhoo, I think Ww is an important pulse-taker for local events, issues, opinions, and politics in your neck of Kings. I wish we had many more like it, up and down the Valley.

    Bob Ashley, CAO, Town of Berwick

  4. I forgot to add that Wolfville is a member of the Municipal Website Venture Board. The Town’s site is undergoing Joomla surgery right now. We’ll do our best to kick it up a notch or three above the Berwick and Argyle offerings!

    We’re learning as we go, crawling then walking. Berwick is just the baby.

    bob ashley

    bob ashley

  5. Thanks for the comments. It is great to hear from a reader once in a while especially something that is complimentary. We aren’t quite so grumpy when you met us in person btw :)
    And that is great news that the Wolfville site is getting a much needed makeover. Praise be and hallelujah – if that isn’t too non- PC to say these days.

  6. Bob, I’ll drop you a line. I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.

  7. BBS,

    Hey, thanks for the follow-up. Really appreciate that from someone who obviously has a pretty sophisticated grasp of Joomla. Your approval of “open source” leads me guess that you might be a Linux advocate?

    Please drop me a line, either to my town email or rb.ashley AT gmail.com.

    bob

  8. Pingback: Wolfville’s website « Ww - Wolfville watch - Ww