Tinton Falls Council President Mike Skudera says he’s starting to get some momentum behind his effort to nudge, push or drag municipal governments into the Internet age.
redbankgreen readers may recall our April feature story on a groundbreaking study Skudera did earlier this year (prior to his selection as head of council) that found most New Jersey towns and cities were miles away from utilizing the web to its capacity as a source of commonly sought public information.
At the time, Skudera drew up a model ordinance he hopes municipalities will adopt. He also started beating the bushes in search of legislative muscle to force balky towns to act.
Earlier today, Skudera took his message to the Statehouse.
There, he got a lesson in how things can go not quite according to plan. A press conference he and north Jersey Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R, 25th District) scheduled for 11a didn’t go off as well as they’d have liked; most of the Trenton press corps was scrambling to report about the 11 public officials (including two state Assembly members) indicted and arrested on corruption charges by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie.
But in one-on-one with reporters in the capitol, Skudera says he managed to get his message across, and the fourth-estaters seemed genuinely interested. Whether that translates into ink remains to be seen.
Merkt plans to introduce legislation when the Assembly is back in session. The idea is to amend the state Open Public Records Act
to direct the state’s cities and towns to maintain websites that contain certain basic information, and that the sites be routinely updated.
On the home front, Skudera tells us Tinton Falls is about to award a contract to Qscend Technologies for an overhaul of its municipal website. The makeover incorporates all the features Skudera has been promoting, and will cost the town less than $20,000. A good part of that cost will come out of a $30,000 technology grant the town won from Comcast, he says.
Once the site is up and running, Skudera plans to introduce an ordinance that lays exactly what should be posted and when. In Tinton Falls, it’s anticipated that department heads will be trained in how to to maintain and update web pages that relate to their areas of responsibility. So far, Skudera says, the five-member council appears to support the idea.
Meantime, Skudera’s gotten a decent amount of attention, winning placement for an op-ed piece he wrote in both the Asbury Park Press and the Bergen Record, and laudatory editorials about his concept.
In fact, Skudera says, he hasn’t heard a peep of opposition.
“I’ve gotten nothing negative,” he says. “To me, it’s a win-win situation.”
Rather, the biggest hurdle he faces, he says, are municipalities that haven’t made the connection between increased sunshine and the bottom line.
“Part of it is that the towns themselves don’t realize it’s going to save them money,” he says. He estimates that at least 10 percent of the effort expended daily by Tinton Falls employees — answering repetitive phone inquiries, making copies and transfering information from one form to another — will eventually be freed up.
“It’s going to pay for itself,” he says.