ON THE WEB, RED BANK SITE IS A PRIZE

screen-shot-2011-04-27-at-1218Red Bank’s website won a Monmouth University award for “best interactive website.” (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If you happen to be looking for old ordinances or minutes from the planning and zoning boards, your mouse may be in for a bit of a workout.

But as far as interaction goes, Red Bank’s municipal website is tops in the Monmouth County, according to Monmouth University.

In its first New Jersey e-Government Awards, the university’s polling institute and public policy program has deemed that of the 53 municipalities in Monmouth County, Red Bank takes the honor for having the best interactive website.

Using a system of variables and comparing sites across the county, the university concluded that of all towns, Red Bank’s site offers the best interactive experience for users.

The website, or this version of it, was launched in 2009 by C3 Citizen Communication Center of Nutley, which maintains it under a $2,000-a-month contract.

In terms of interactivity, it’s a snap, said Kathryn Kolby, director of the public policy program at MU. Users can pay bills with ease, scan through photos, register for programs and, if they’ve signed up for them, receive alerts via email or text message — stuff the university was looking at for the interactive category, she said.

“We were just interested in where things are, the state of affairs, you could say, on how citizens get information,” she said. “What we learned is it’s not just about lengthy government documents and the budget, but schedules, recycling information and alerts. That’s important to day-to-day life.”

Those lengthy government documents she referenced are something of a challenge to get on the screen. It takes a few clicks in various places on the site to find what you’re looking for in some cases, and that’s an issue the university didn’t factor in to its awards, but intends to in the future.

“We did not test for maneuverability or accessibility,” Kolby said. “That is something that we are aware of and we think matters, and is something we’ll incorporate into the next phase.

“What stood out for Red Bank was the ability for transactions to be carried out on the website. Not that face-to-face interaction with government officials isn’t necessary, but to have that kind of convenience is a good thing.”

The study and subsequent awards, Kolby pointed out, are meant to serve as recognition for the work municipalities put into their web presence, and in the end, lend the university the opportunity to share what tools and methods work best for the general public. The university isn’t there to point out what towns aren’t doing right, but rather, “we want to recognize what governments are doing and continue a positive momentum.”

“We view ourselves as sort of a catalyst or partner, but not a skeptic or adversarial role in this process,” Kolby said. “We have to create opportunities for potential growth.”

Councilman Mike DuPont took the award as a sign that the borough’s goal of transparency and public access is being seen through in the world wide web.

“Just super. Super,” he said. “I hope we continue to track it, and the public knows how important transparency is” to us, he said.

Middletown, by the way, got an honorable mention for its website, in the category of best citizen-centered, Kolby said.

Red Bank and other honorees will be recognized at a ceremony tonight at the university.