Taking a look at the Council section of the new City web site

logo The latest in a series of posts on the City web site logo

Posting about tonight’s Council meetings took Gadfly last night to the Council section of the new City web site.

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/

Remember that he has encouraged you to visit the new site and make constructive comments.

And he has also hoped for volunteers to take an individual section of the new site and “go deep,” pointing out its value and perhaps shortcomings.

Well, last night Gadfly went deep on the City Council section.

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Meet-Your-Government/City-Council

You wouldn’t expect much if any difference to the content on this portion of the web site from the old site.

And, indeed, the same basic information as before is there and easy to find.

One thing Gadfly likes to point out is that you can find Council members’ financial statements here — you ought to look at them every once in a while just for the helluva it. And, after all, with the current election now heading in to the past, “war chests” for the next round will be of interest. Gadfly was always curious about what it takes financially to run for office in our small town. Here you can find out. And there was a question about the “ethics” of a candidate financial transaction at the very tail end of the May primary, you might remember.

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Meet-Your-Government/City-Council/Candidate-Disclosure

A happy surprise, though, is a literal calendar of Council meetings, with direct links to the agenda and background documents. And it is on this page that you will find the link to the live streaming and archiving of the Council meetings.

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Calendar/

Now Gadfly thinks it was just in his last post on the new web site that he whined about not having a calendar for all City events. He still would like that. (Maybe one has quietly appeared, for this Council calendar wasn’t there last time he looked.)

But here’s a calendar for the specific Council section. Good.

Gadfly is old style, he guesses, for he likes the visual ease and familiarity of taking in the whole month at a glance this way.

Of course, there aren’t really a whole lot of Council meetings, so some times this calendar will look pretty empty.

But November will soon fill up with budget meetings, so the calendar view will come in handy as far as Gadfly is concerned, planning how to fill all that “free” retirement time he has.

There is one further technological step that Gadfly would like to see in proper course.

The agenda and background documents for agenda items are separated, and eventually direct links from agenda items to background documents would save time and distraction and improve usability.

A time-consuming step, Gadfly knows, but a helpful one.

And, by the way again, Gadfly is still wondering if there was any kind of report on the Communication Survey that was done by the City some months back now. He will try to remember to ask about this at Council tonight.

Please do send your constructive comments about your experience with the new web site.

How ’bout that new City web site?

logo The latest in a series of posts on City government logo

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/

City web

Been two weeks since Gadfly posted that the new City web site went “live.”

Gadfly can imagine that there were “bugs” no matter how much the tech wizards pre-tested and that it will take a little time for things to run completely smoothly.

Been there, done that.

So he has refrained asking for immediate follower commentary.

But it is getting about that time.

Gadfly wishes he had a volunteer crew to divvy up the site and go deep on individual sections, compiling helpful commentary for us as users of the site and also helpful commentary for the behind-the-scenes guys — what’s good, what needs work.

So he does herewith and now invite you to go deep on a section or sections, take notes, and report to Gadfly.

What is there to like and that we all should know about? And what are the places where there’s work to be done?

Gadfly will compile worthy material, organize it, and forward to City Hall.

Constructive comments, please.

But Gadfly will say immediately that he is disappointed about one big thing.

Almost the first problem that Gadfly noticed at the beginning of his novitiate year was the difficulty for the public in finding out about meetings.

His very first public comments at Council meetings had to do with the desirability of a master “calendar” of all meetings (City Council, the ABC’s, etc.).

Gadfly imagined an online calendar, month by month, that would contain meetings for each day (time, location) with a link to an agenda if one were available.

He believes he remembers being told that one was in the works.

Apparently not.

Now perhaps that’s a “huger” technical project than the ol’ professor who was known as “Edward Scholarhands” for his technical and mechanical ineptitude imagines.

And it would need a good detail person to stay on top of it to make it effective, maybe an additional personnel slot. Can you see the ad for a “Calendar-Keeper”!

Two strikes.

But Gadfly wonders if there isn’t something commercially available. Follower Holland had (has?) a prototype using Google calendar.

Such a master calendar need not be restricted to “business” — it could be a master list, a one-stop resource for all different kinds of City-sponsored events.

It would be “the” place to go to see what’s going on in the City on a day or a future period of time.

Gadfly just feels that a core, unified tool like that would be a tremendous practical as well as symbolic resource for people who want to participate in city government.

And, by the way, was there ever any kind of report on the Communication Survey that was done by the City some months back now?

Gadfly was looking for that.

https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/

Thoughts on connecting with “Connecting Bethlehem” (8)

(8th in a series of posts on the communication survey)

Did you
Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey?

Gadfly is all atwitter about the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey and the steps that will take place based on it.

“Good communication builds community” — to paraphrase something he heard somewhere.

I tell you, the thought of Councilman Reynolds on Twitter after Tuesday’s meeting answering questions and fielding comments was enough to keep him awake Tuesday night. Fantastic!

The survey seems very important. It sounds like it will direct future resources. So Gadfly’s also been thinking about the means of distributing the survey and the number of responses received.

Seems important that there be a lot of responses from all levels in the town.

But Gadfly is not clear on the means of dissemination. Online at the City web site and in print form at City Hall and the libraries, he remembers. But vague on other means.

How do we reach people to tell them about the survey? Feels like a dog-chasing-its-tail situation. We need better communication but we don’t have great communication to reach people to ask how we can better the communication. Or something like that. Feels like a case in point for the need for significant improvement in communication.

So how will people know about the survey?

In my Catholic school years, messages were always been sent home to parents through the kids. That way everybody got something. But I guess that route is not available to us.

What about a separate one-sheet mailing to the newsletter mailing list — would that be effective at reasonable cost?

But that’s assuming recipients have access to a computer to respond. What about those who don’t?

It’s so important that we get a good “return.”

Would Gadfly followers have suggestions for disseminating news of the survey and/or the survey itself?

Maybe Gadfly could then put together a list of suggestions for Councilman Reynolds and Mayor Donchez.

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

 

Launching “Connecting Bethlehem” with a communication survey (7)

(7th in a series of posts on the communication survey)

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

The “Connecting Bethlehem” communications survey – developed in collaboration with Mayor Donchez, his Administration, and a working group of citizens and community partners — is a significant step in Councilman Reynolds’ January 2017 proposal designed to increase the City of Bethlehem’s online presence and level of engagement with its citizens.

The survey  Communication 1

  • is available in English and Spanish
  • is open for about a month
  • takes about 10 minutes to complete
  • is available in paper form (City Hall, the libraries)
  • will be the basis for further planning and implementation of resources

Here is a recording of the Tuesday press conference in which the survey was introduced by Councilman Reynolds and Mayor Donchez.

Councilman Reynolds

“Citizens are looking at technology as an opportunity to interact in a different way.”

“We’re at an interesting time both in our community and across the country where we have some people who get all of their news and all of their information from the internet . . . and then we have some people who don’t get any of their information [there].”

“So it’s not necessarily an either/or where we need to move completely away from our traditional modes of communication, and that’s what led us to today.”  Communication 2

“[We] needed to take a look at all City communications . . . how do people get their information, where do they get their information from, what do they want from the City.”

“The survey is designed to measure people’s current use and satisfaction with our communication methods as well as determine the areas in which they would like to see the City invest in.”

“One of the things we’ve been trying to do . . . is expand the definition of what it means to be part of our community.”

“Our hope is that citizens, businesses, our institutions of higher learning, our Chamber of Commerce, [our library] . . . as many different ways as are possible that will allow people to be engaged.”

“People are expecting a quicker level of response, but it’s also about a greater level of efficiency.”

“What we are doing today is part of our larger scale push to embrace technology, to take a look at what it can mean to the City of Bethlehem, but at the same time not answer those questions ourselves.”

“This is about giving the opportunity to people in our community to help guide us in a direction . . . to redefine what technology can mean for our community.”

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

Mayor Donchez

The Mayor cited these significant additional elements in the communications area:  Communications 3

  • a new City web site July 1
  • a new 24/7 customer service phone line 610-865-7000 July 1
  • a new Bethlehem app July 1
  • a revamped newsletter going out in the next month
  • a new open data/open gov where we can see how our money is spent

“The goal is to make city information more accessible, easier for the public to get, and really connect citizens to the government.”

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

and spread the word to others!

Announcing a City Communication survey on Tuesday

On Gadfly’s calendar for Tuesday, March 26, at 3:30 in Town Hall is a press conference announcing a City Communication survey. Gadfly is not exactly sure whatz-up here, but he believes it is rooted in the following section of CM Reynolds’ “Bethlehem 2017” report — more like a vision statement (full document is linked on the Gadfly sidebar).

At least, Gadfly hopes thats what this event is about. Followers know that public participation and communication fuel the Gadfly project.

Well worth reading.

from
J. William Reynolds
Bethlehem City Council President
“Bethlehem 2017”
January 2017

#3 Engaging Bethlehem

As technology has been progressing exponentially in the past several years, so have citizens’ expectations of the application of that technology.  In 2007, being “friends” with or “following” an elected official or governmental body passed for a successful social media interaction.  Over time, people have come to expect a quicker and more personal interaction with their governmental officials and organizations.  Many times, citizens look to the internet or social media to solve a governmental problem (such as a quality of life issue) which is a different utilization of technology than was used ten or fifteen years ago.  While some departments in the City of Bethlehem do an effective job of responding to the citizens of Bethlehem, by and large, we remain behind other cities and municipalities in interacting successfully with our citizens of Bethlehem.  Some of that issue is likely inevitable in a world where technology is changing so quickly.  Technology is moving quickly and the City has not made it a priority to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to engage our citizens through social media. We must, however, switch from a reactive authoritative system to a proactive interactive system of social media services if we are going to optimize the current extensive opportunities available for technological citizen engagement.

Why can’t the issue of Social Media be looked at with Open Data?

There are many similarities between social media and open data.  Both involve computers, technology, and interaction between government and their citizens. They are not, however, the same thing. Open Data is data produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities that can be used to create something new and innovative. The data is used to accomplish a separate larger goal of the community and the government.  Social media centers on websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social interaction.  The user goal of social media can often be met through the individual interaction.  The difference between the two is stark and understanding the difference is important in comprehending the future goals of the individual mediums as they relate to the City of Bethlehem.

What should be done? 

The City of Bethlehem should look at what we currently do now in the field of social media and how we can increase interactions with the members of our community.   Potential goals to be included:

  1. Find out what people want. The world of technology is moving quickly and we increasingly have citizens who receive the majority if not all of their information from their computers and their phones.  Finding out what people want from the City of Bethlehem is an important place to start the conversation.
  2. Study other cities. Many other cities use social media in various ways related to the services that they provide. Looking at what other cities do and the value it brings to the efficiency of their services should be an immediate goal of the city.
  3. Interact with and talk to the members of our community who are actively involved with social media. The Bethlehem community is filled with many professionals who specialize in social media.  They should be utilized for information as well as best practices in determining what the City of Bethlehem is not currently doing well.
  4. Encourage more questions of our community. Many political leaders and governments throughout the country make open-ended questions a key aspect of their social media presence.  Asking questions of our community increases interactions, reach, and effectiveness of our social media efforts.
  5. Post and be willing to respond quicker – ex. disaster related information. We have not always responded to natural disasters such as snow events as efficiently as we could have or in the same effective way that other cities have.  For example, other cities have been constant in interacting and responding to community questions/concerns.  Other ideas include creating hashtags such as #SnowBethlehem as a way for community members’ questions/concerns/frustrations to be read and directed to city departments or employees with the capability to address that concern.
  6. Encourage more posting of pictures relating to services (leaf collection, code violations, etc.) The most basic job of a city government is to provide basic city services. For decades, the way people relayed a service concern was by a phone call or a trip to City Hall.  Social media allows people to report concerns and complaints instantly. This, however, needs to be done through a concerted effort to encourage people to do this.  For example, “Please send pictures of garbage violations to #BethlehemTrash” or “Please send pictures of garbage violations in a Direct Message to @BethlehemTrashConcerns”
  7. Create #hashtag days among departments to maximize reach of branding and news #VisitBethlehem #LiveBethlehem #SafeBethlehem, #WalkBethlehem, etc. Cities have been using hashtags to brand themselves for years.  Getting everyone who handles a City of Bethlehem social media account to tweet on the same topic increases not only the branding of Bethlehem but also the reach of important community events.

How should we go about improving our social media operation?  It is my belief we should follow the same procedure as outlined previously for Open Data and our Climate Action Plan.  Resolution #3 outlines goals to be accomplished in 2017 in the area of social media in the City of Bethlehem.  A Social Media team should be created using members of the Administration, current social media contacts in our individual departments, members of City Council, and, most importantly, people in our community who utilize social media on a daily basis for business.  Giving the Social Media Team ample time to study what we do, what other cities do, and create goals for the City of Bethlehem.

There is also an open house at the Banana Factory for the Southside Streetscape Design at 3:30-5:30, but, thankfully, also at 6:30-8:30, so no need to miss out on Tuesday’s doin’s.

Gadfly turned to stone (33) (5)

(33rd in a series of posts on parking)

(5th in a series on the communication survey)

Reminder: Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday Oct 10 6:30 Town Hall to discuss the BPA parking fines proposal. The Mayor has already approved the BPA request to raise meter rates from $1/hr to $1.50/hr. See post #28 in this series for the BPA proposal on fines.

We know the Communication survey meeting on Oct 24 has been canceled, but this thread on communication refuses to die.

———-

In the October 8 post Public Response to Parking Increases? (29) (1) (why are you so number-anal, Gadfly? You oughtta see somebody about that), Gadfly said he was surprised at the lack of response and hatched a handful of possible reasons why:

  • Maybe the 50% rise in meter rates met with acceptance with the public and business stakeholders.
  • Maybe the response won’t come till the parking proposal package is completed when Council takes action on the fines.
  • Maybe it’s a little too early — a week — for the Morning Call to be publishing a spread of Letters to the Editor, which is the place where Gadfly usually expects to see a register of public response.
  • Maybe the reaction won’t come till the moment of implementation January 1.
  • Maybe “the people” really don’t know about it yet.

And Gadfly rambled off into some meditations about the last bullet.

Then Dana reported that social media was active and that “comment by area residents on social media sites was unfavorable overall.”

So Gadfly girded his loins and plunged into Facebook. Where he was immediately turned to stone like Polydectes looking on the face of Medusa (O, Gadfly, you are so wonky. People need a Bullfinch’s Mythology at hand just to make sense of your damn little blogblurt).

See if you too don’t feel just a little masonry-faced:

“Why does it matter? [About going to an open meeting to discuss the parking rates.] City Council will do whatever they want. Public input wanted but public input not valued. That leads to frustration which I don’t have time for. Example: meter rate increase. Foregone conclusion. Why waste people’s time?”

Mortar-throated, it’s hard for me to talk. My knuckles won’t bend; it’s hard for me to write.

We should think about that quote every morning. Put a stickie on your bathroom mirror. On your shoe top. On your Keurig. On your steering-wheel.

“Maybe” there hasn’t been the response in mainstream channels that Gadfly expected because people feel shut out.

We should think about those words before every meeting.

That guy is Gadfly’s audience.

the City’s website should be the mainframe for disseminating information to the public (4)

(4th in a series of posts on the communication survey)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development and deputy director of community development.

In my opinion, the City’s website should be the mainframe for disseminating information to the public, with social media as a supplement.

I have opted in for all alerts, and yet the only topics that seem to be covered, my compliments to both of these areas, are streets and recycling.

There are no alerts for meetings such as HCC, HARB, ZHB, Planning Commission, Health Board — no alerts for initiatives such as flu shots, availability of CDBG applications, recreation programs, etc. (with links to applicable agendas and minutes).

I would suggest that each department have an information officer who would insure that public information is sent out to all residents and businesses who opt into the website, so that these timely alerts provide city government’s news and opportunities.

There should be no political news, just the service-related info that citizens deserve to have in a timely fashion.

Dana