If you’re a hopeless romantic like us, you’ve probably already got big plans for Valentine’s Day. We know we do! This Feb. 14, we’re going to grab a bottle of wine and some chocolates, stop by the flower shop and then head home to spend the rest of the night obsessively refreshing the city of Concord’s website. Oh, does that not sound like something straight out of E.L. James to you? Because to us, this sounds 50 shades of great! You see, the city is launching its new website that night, and we want to be the first to check it out.
There was a time when the current website was perfectly serviceable. In fact, City Manager Tom Aspell told us that 10 years ago, the site actually won several awards for excellence in a community website. Well, Pabst Blue Ribbon won some awards in 1893 too; that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still good. The time was right for a change.
“We really tried to change it from a diagram of the city services to something more user-centric,” said Ed Drouse, city information technology director.
Indeed, the new site has a bunch of new interactive features that will make it a much more efficient tool for Concordians. One such is the ability to opt into an email alert system that will notify citizens of citywide emergencies, parking bans, road closings and whatever else might be coming down the pike. President coming to town again? Probably not, unless he is going to run for a third term (we knew it!). But if he did, the city’s new email alert system would fill you in on just what to do regarding road closings and the like.
Another interactive feature of the new site that really grabbed our attention is the “Report a Concern” button. This feature will allow citizen to report things like potholes and roadkill online and then track the progress.
“Say there’s a dead possum on Badger Street,” Aspell said. “Sound like a turf war! You can report that right on the website.” In fact, you can even mobile upload a photo of the problem to go with your reported concern. (Mr. Aspell, brace yourself for a moment while imagining your inbox flooded with pictures of dead marsupials.) After the problem is dealt with, you’ll receive an email informing you that all is well. Now that’s government for the people by the people!
The Concord Public Library website is also a major part of this revamp. Now, you’ll be able to reserve or renew a book, request them from interlibrary loan, download ebooks and suggest new books the library should get – all online! You’ll never have to physically go to the library again! (But you should, anyway.)
There are so many more improvements coming that we scarce have time or space to mention them here. The Parks and Recreation department is hard at work getting their entire catalogue ready for full online registration. You will be able to pay online for things like your water bill, dog registration and other city clerk-based fees. And, you’ll be able to view the schedules for all the city’s various committee meetings. Customize your own personal calender on the site with just the meetings you’re interested in – and none of the boring ones! (More on the boring ones next week.) You’ll also be able to find agendas and minutes from those meetings online in a user-friendly, highly searchable format. Want to figure out how many times Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said “ward” last year? That will be something you can achieve!
Of course, any new website is going to come with bugs. There’s nothing to worry about on the user’s side of the screen, of course (although we’d think twice about browsing on your laptop with no pants on, but that’s a story for another day). If you do see something funky going on with the new site, just click on “report a bug” and let the IT folks know what’s going on. If the “report a bug” button is broken, prepare for some sort of e-disaster on the scale of Y2K.
So, this Valentine’s Day, we suggest you go lie by the fire on a bearskin rug and check out the new website. Can we consider that a date?