City recognized for its website’s transparency
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca is one of seven cities to be recognized for the public transparency of its website.
A coalition of the Wisconsin Women’s Council, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Association awarded the city of Waupaca the Connect WI Gold for providing easy access to online information about public officials and open meetings.
“This first group of local governments recognized by ConnectWI demonstrate how, when done well, website transparency is a tremendous resource for the public and opens doors for constituents to better know and engage with their public officials,” said Christine Lidbury, executive director of the Women’s Council.
The purpose of the award is to encourage best practices in local government websites.
City Administrator Henry Veleker said the city began working with Alliance for Innovation about two years ago, looking at new ways to provide public services.
“The Alliance will do a pilot project when a municipality is considering membership. Waupaca chose transparency,” Veleker said.
Among the first changes the city made was to change the platform of its website. Although the transparency project and the new platform were separate projects, going to WordPress as the new platform allowed city staff to have more control over the content and website features.
Josh Werner, the city’s communications specialist, worked with a website team that met at least quarterly to review and discuss improvements to the city’s website.
In addition to airing council meetings on WIN-TV, the city posted videos of the meetings on its website.
“Government transparency was a project tackled by our innovation work team while collaborating with our website team as the city’s website was redesigned, both projects working hand in hand,” Werner said. “This project led to a user friendly website while allowing our residents easy access to their government.”
“The whole underlying premise of transparency is to build citizens’ trust,” Veleker said. “Most people tend to have a negative view or skepticism about government. Increased transparency allows citizens to better connect with their government.”
When visiting the city’s website at www.cityofwaupaca.org, people can find links to information on how to apply for a building permit, a dog license or a library card, how to register to vote or contact a city official.
There are calendars for council and committee meetings, along with agendas and minutes.
Payments for water bills, building permits, recreation fees and Waupaca Online can be made at the city’s website.
Visitors to the city’s website will also find links to WIN-TV, where videos of city council and county board meetings are posted.
There are links to various departments, such as the police, fire, library and airport, as well as links to the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce and local school district.
Citizens can also report concerns and problems at the website.
Werner said the city recently added a “Transparency” tab to its navigation bar.
Currently, the information under “Transparency” includes the city’s annual budgets from 2010 to 2015 and its audits from 2009 to 2013.
“We’re in the process of developing new billing software that will allow to post more details on how the taxpayers’ money is being spent,” Werner said.
The city posts council meeting packets online.
“Residents are able to go online and see the same information the council members are getting a couple of days before the meeting,” Werner said.
“Trying to better inform the project is an ongoing journey,” Veleker said. “The technological tools to do transparency are constantly changing.”
Werner believes the city’s new radio station “will give us a lot more reach and visibility than a cable TV station does.”
Veleker said the city plans to eventually stream its radio broadcasts.
“I think there would be a lot of interest in that,” Velker said. “We also have 100 non-profit groups in the community and this will be a great vehicle for them to talk about the great stuff they are doing.”