Thursday, June 30, 2011

Modernize Services

We live in an age of cloud-based computing, where you can be in your car and reach your desktop computer. It's an age where cell phones can recharge without wires and connecting to other people and information is as much virtual as it is actual.

Troy can improve its overall level of service by more effectively employing technology to keep residents safe and maintain neighborhood quality-of-life. We have first-class municipal services from police and fire departments to code enforcement and the DPW, among others. Yet, there are several ways that we can improve them even more; some complicated, some that would need planning and investment.

First, would be for the city's website to offer a user friendly interface that expands “Action Line” reporting, requesting FOIL-able documents, and overall is a cleaner version of what exists. This can be done by acquiring a content management system, which also enables faster updating by each department head. Troy has a very active and involved community; we need to continue to encourage this. Three and a half years ago I helped co-founded the North Lansingburgh Neighborhood Watch to assist facilitate the resolution of neighborhood quality-of- life issues. We live in a “point and click age” and we need to make it easier for people to “point-and-click” their neighborhood issues to City officials.

Next, City government can improve the way it reacts to neighborhood issues. Troy is dense city with about 14,000 property parcels. To be effective city governments need quick, accurate, and relevant information to address quality-of-life issues, including Troy. As a member of the Troy City Council, I would support adopting the approach of Everett, MA officials.

Earlier this year, they acquired handheld devices and portable printers from a company called GeoTMS. Their product includes “a complete land-management software package designed…to electronically process and track information such as applications, permits, inspections and licenses” according to a press release.

The release goes on to say “Code Enforcement…Fire and Police officers and [other municipal] officials can enter an address in the device or on the web, look at any history of violations and immediately cite or fine an offender.” In addition to these agencies, we may be able to improve the capability of the City’s Assessor office using this type of new technology.

A third, but certainly not the final way, we can use technology to improve government is to enact a city-wide email and text alert system that goes directly to the resident, free and accurately, assuming they opt into it. This isn’t new either. RPI has a text alert system for their entire campus and Watervliet has recently begun an email newsletter service. I have to believe that while perhaps more complex, we can expand these services to anyone in Troy that wants to receive them.

The internet and social networking has altered the landscape of how government needs to connect to the people. These are simple, cost effective ways to address an information gap that might exist among people that use this new technology.

Proactive government allows for a progressive and successful community. A famous quote states there is no Republican or Democrat way to pick up your garbage. However, we need buy-in from city officials that view technology as an effective solution to municipal issues.

Our City and its services will only be as effective as the tools they utilize. We need to continue engaging our residents and provide them with essential details so they can enjoy all the city has to offer. We need to enhance our communication methods while continuing to maintain our traditional ones.

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