By JOHN T. WARD
After years of talk, Red Bank finally has a new website.
Launched without fanfare late last month, the new portal to local government information services replaces a clunker that in its final months couldn’t find the mayor’s name in a search.
In addition to the “outdated” appearance of the old website, “it was a struggle to find information” there, said information technology director Joe Fagliarone. “I just felt the sense of frustration” that was shared by residents and borough employees alike, he said.
Fagliarone, the former information director of Montclair Township, was hired by the borough at a salary of $95,000 in May, 2015 to steer its computer hardware and software systems. He oversaw the new site’s creation with council members Kathy Horgan, Linda Schwabenbauer and Ed Zipprich, who constitute the governing body’s education and technology committee.
“They really wanted to be able to provide more transparency,” said Fagliarone.
Created “with a lot of guidance” from residents as well as borough employees, and informed by examining websites of other towns, the site was constructed over nine months by vendor CivicPlus, which provided training to borough department heads and employees on how to keep it updated.
Previously, borough Clerk Pam Borghi and two other borough employees handled content updates, Fagliarone said. Now, individual departments are responsible for keeping their pages fresh, he said.
The cleaner look of the new site was meant to improve navigation to a greater store of information, he said. It was also designed to boost citizen engagement with the borough government, Fagliarone said.
One aspect of that is the new ability for users to sign up for a range of alerts, and to tailor the information they want to receive via a “dashboard.” For example, users can get alerts about parks and recreation events; bid postings; job openings; “all construction related activities;” and more.
Alerts can be received via email, text or both.
A 911-in-reverse component will send out emergency notices to those who’ve signed up.
Another engagement booster, said Fagliarone, is a feature called “request trackers.”
A resident who files a request for action on a pothole, dead animal in the street or brown tap water will get an acknowledgment that the request was received, and another response when the ticket is closed, Fagliarone said.
“That’s one thing we really want to push,” Fagliarone said.
While the prior version of the site “required you to be Sherlock Holmes to find anything,” the new one is “amazing,” said committee chair Horgan, who is encouraging to residents to sign up for alerts even if they signed up under the old regime.
The site isn’t without its gaps. Last Monday, a visitor looking for the agenda to that night’s agenda would have been hard-pressed to find it, because the meeting had been cancelled — the notice of which was itself reveal only after two additional clicks. And a user seeking information about CivicPlus itself would find a link to instructions on “how to hide blank pages,” but nothing on the vendor’s contract with the borough.
The website is still being fine-tuned, with plans to add a document center, Fagliarone said, and feedback from the public is wanted, he said.
Numerous archived documents, including past meeting agendas and minutes, have yet to be uploaded to the site, said Borghi. She told redbankgreen her ideal is a site that eventually includes the agenda and minutes of every council meeting dating back to the first, in 1908.
As for the CivicPlus contract, Fagliarone said the borough is paying the vendor $21,963 per year for three years for site construction and maintenance, which is $2,570 per year less than it was paying the previous vendor. Afterward, the annual cost drops to $10,020, he said.
“We’re paying less for the build and maintenance of the site than we were paying just for maintenance,” Fagliarone said.
As part of the contract, Civic Plus is obligated to perform a “site refresh” in 2020, Fagliarone said. Meantime, a mobile app is expected to debut “later this fall,” Horgan said at the council’s last semimonthly meeting.
Meantime, space in the wesbite’s header is expected to soon spotlight the winners in the seasonal photo contests now being hosted by the parks and rec department, Fagliarone said.