Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Norco Local Gov't Web Pages: Good, Bad & Nonexistent

When I rated Lehigh County's local government web pages, back in June, I expected to have Northampton County's results the next day. But Northampton County, though slightly smaller than Lehigh, is much more fragmented, with thirty-eight different municipalities.

I've tried to keep things objective for once. Here's how it works. Any local government with a website gets a point. Additional points are awarded for meeting agendas, minutes, online newsletters, calendars and email contacts (to elected officials only). If the site has other items designed to inform its citizens or make government more transparent, more points are awarded.

At the end of the post, I've included the data showing how points are determined for each municipality. If I've got something wrong, please let me know. I'm not proud. That's why I blog.

After a few days, I'll combine the Lehigh and Northampton County results to determine the best municipal websites in the Lehigh Valley. I'll have a few recommendations on how things can improve. If you have any suggestions, please make them known.

Here's the Northampton County breakdown.

7 points: Bethlehem Township, Easton City, Hanover Township and Williams Township tie for the county's best municipal web pages. These folks get it. Their sites promote public use and access. Three of these local governments actually include email contacts for elected officials, something very rare. Most municipalities try to guard access to their elected officials, a mistake.

6 points: Forks Township, Northampton County, Palmer Township and Wilson Borough. Northampton County has made strides over the past year, and now provides access to property records and sheriff's sales. But its biggest service to taxpayers is that you can pay your tax bills on line. Only Allentown has a similar feature.

5 points: Bethlehem City, Lower Saucon Township, Nazareth Borough and Upper Mount Bethel Township. These are all good web pages, designed to make government more transparent. All of these local governments provide access to minutes or agendas. A nice feature in Upper Mount Bethel, and one I've seen nowhere else in the Lehigh Valley, is the ability to submit your own news story about the community.

4 points: Allen Township. All the basics are there.

3 points: Pen Argyl Borough and Plainfield Township. These local governments appear to be on the right track.

2 points: Bushkill Township, Lower Nazareth Township, West Easton Borough and Wind Gap Borough. These are web pages that really need to improve.

1 point: Bath Borough, Freemansburg Borough, Hellertown Borough, Lower Mount Bethel Township and Washington Township. At least they showed up.

0 points: Bangor Borough, Chapman Borough, East Allen Township, East Bangor Borough, Glendon Borough, Lehigh Township, Moore Township, North Catasauqua Borough, Northampton Borough, Portland Borough, Roseto Borough, Stockertown Borough, Tatamy Borough, Upper Nazareth Township and Walnutport Borough. These local governments are either ungodly small or have demonstrated problems with citizen access. If they can't provide this basic service to constituents, they should merge with municipalities that try.

Here's the data I compiled to arrive at these results. If my math is wrong, it's because my dog was messing with my calculator.

Northampton County: Score - 6.
Minutes? Yes.
Agendas? Yes, but only most recent meeting.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? Yes.
You can pay tax bills online, view sheriff sale properties and check out recent deeds and mortgages. Over 150 different documents are available, including the Home Rule Charter, budget and administrative code.

Allen Township: Score - 4.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? Yes, for most recent meeting.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes, on home page.
Calendar? Yes.

Bangor Borough: No web page. Score - 0.

Bath Borough: Score - 1.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? No.

Bethlehem City: Score - 5.
Minutes? Yes.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? No.
Online calendar? Yes.
It has a few on line extras, described in an earlier post.

Bethlehem Township: Score - 7.
Minutes? Yes (since 2000)!
Agendas? Yes. Only current meeting.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.
Bethlehem Township actually has two web pages - one for government and the other for recreation, and its home page contains a section for "fast breaking" news.

Bushkill Township: Score - 2.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No.

Chapman Borough: No web page. Score - 0.

East Allen Township: No webpage. Score - 0.

East Bangor Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Easton City: Score - 7.
Minutes? Yes.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? Yes. (for city council)
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.
Easton's ordinances are available online.

Forks Township: Score - 6.
Minutes? Yes, for 2 years.
Agendas? Yes, for 2 years.
Email contacts? Yes.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.

Freemansburg Borough: Score - 1.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Over a year old.
Calendar? No.

Glendon Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Hanover Township: Score - 7.
Minutes? Yes, all the way back to 2001!
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? Yes.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.
This webpage contains a scrolling news ticker to inform residents, and also includes agendas and minutes for all of its boards.

Hellertown Borough: Score - 1.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? No.
The site is set up for a newsletter, but fails to provide one.

Lehigh Township: No webpage. Score - 0.

Lower Mt. Bethel Township: Score - 1.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? No.

Lower Nazareth Township: Score - 2.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? Yes.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? Not updates since 2005.

Lower Saucon Township: Score - 5.
Minutes? Yes.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No.
This page has separate sections for its environmental advisory council and zoning hearing board.

Moore Township: No webpage. Score - 0.

Nazareth Borough: Score - 5.
Minutes? Limited.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? Yes.
Online newsletter? Yes. For the winter.
Calendar? Yes.

North Catasauqua Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Northampton Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Palmer Township: Score - 6.
Minutes? Yes, back to 2003.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? Only for one of five supervisors.
Online newsletter? Yes, The home page appears to be a detailed online newsletter.
Calendar? Yes.
The site contains links to its community center, athletic association, business association, fire department and to various codes and permits.

Pen Argyl Borough: Score - 3.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No.
There is a link to Pen Argyl's borough code.

Plainfield Township: Score - 3.
Minutes? Only one meeting is listed, from March.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? On the home page, there are notices.
Calendar? A meeting schedule is listed on the left sidebar.

Portland Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Roseto Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Stockertown Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Tatamy Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Upper Mt. Bethel Township: Score - 5.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? No.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No, but the home page does list upcoming meetings.
A nice feature of this site, and one I see nowhere else, is the ability to submit news items in the township.

Upper Nazareth Township: No webpage. Score - 0.

Walnutport Borough: No webpage. Score - 0.

Washington Township: Score - 1.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? Only for the planning commission.
Email contacts? None for elected officials.
Online newsletter? No.
Calendar? No.

West Easton Borough: Score - 2.
Minutes? No.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? None for elected officials.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No.

Williams Township: Score - 7.
Minutes? Yes.
Agendas? Yes.
Email contacts? Yes.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.
This site contains numerous application forms, zoning forms and recent ordinances.

Wilson Borough: Score - 6.
Minutes? Yes, back to 2005.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? Only two of ten elected officials.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? Yes.
This site also contains an online complaint form.

Wind Gap Borough: Score - 2.
Minutes? Only 2006. None at all for 2007.
Agendas? No.
Email contacts? Only for two elected officials.
Online newsletter? Yes.
Calendar? No.

Update: I was agraid I'd screw up, and so I did. East Allen Township has one of the county's best web pages. It includes a newsletter, calendar, minutes, agenda and also includes a few forms. It's entitled to a 6.
Update #2: I also missed North Catasauqua Borough, which has no newsletter, calendar, minutes or agendas. Its score is 1.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.eastallentwp.org/

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks. I'll add this to the mix and admit my error.

Anonymous said...

Also check out www.northcatasauqua.com

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks for correcting me. I'll note my error and add N Catty to the mix.