Town Hall web pages becoming more common

Officials, prodded by computer-using taxpayers, are making Web design and maintenance part of the job description of various people in town halls and superintendents’ offices.

Consider Merrimack.

The town has long been a regional leader in government information online; it caused the area’s first cyber-firestorm of protest more than a decade ago by posting floor plans of residents’ homes online, at a time when few people connected the Web with Town Hall.

Even so, Deb Courtemanche, executive secretary for the Merrimack Town Council, says she has seen the online work expand since she joined Town Hall in 2004.

“I maintain the calendar, the latest-news section, any shortcuts on the home page. Also I maintain the town council (page) – minutes, draft minutes, and current agendas . . . and maintain committee pages,” she said, ticking off a list during a recent phone interview. “I would say, in an average week, I spend probably 5-6 hours.”

Others have similar workloads, she said: “Really, every department touches part of the Web site.”

Web placement is also becoming part of the daily decision-making. She noted that advance information on pay-as-you-throw, the idea about charging for trash to increase recycling, would normally have been several links deep in the site when it was scheduled for council discussion, but the town manger moved it to the home page because of public interest.

A lot of this isn’t exactly exciting work, such as scanning documents that provide information about topics to be discussed so that councilors and the general public can read them in advance of meetings.

“When I post the town council meeting agendas – all of the backup to the meeting is public information. A year or two ago, when a resident wanted that information, they’d have to come in, pay to copy it, or wait until the day of the meeting, so they wouldn’t get a lot of time to review the content,” she said.

“It has sort of become a posting requirement,” she said, describing the legal process of making announcements available in advance of public meetings.

“In the past, posting was e-mailing it and posting it to the Town Hall bulletin boards. Now the Web site is part of it.”

Soon, she said, the Web might start replacing older methods of information.

“It is now a tool to get the voter’s guide out there before they get the hard copy (before town meeting),” she said.

And there’s a small cost savings too.

“Fewer documents need to be printed because people can download it at home.”