Ferndale City Council Begins Talk on Upgrading Website
The Ferndale City Council wants to improve the city website, making it easier to navigate and adding services for residents.
"This is meant to be a fluid conversation," Ferndale City Manager April McGrath said, kicking off an open discussion.
Common points of improvement included making the website user friendly, keeping information up-to-date, providing resident services on the site such as paying bills, establishing a brand for the city of Ferndale, as well as creating social media pages and policies.
"We want to be making sure we are moving (technological upgrades) into the 21st Century for local government," Councilwoman Melanie Piana said.
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter said he wants to see the website as a one-stop shop for Ferndale business. "It should be customer friendly, not only easy to navigate but also a way to do every form of business here," he said.
A big component of improving the site was also a discussion on communication between the city and its residents, such as that during the multi power outage in July that left thousands of Ferndale residents without power. During the outage, which occurred in the midst of the hottest period of time in southeast Michigan in 15 years, the city relied mostly on the media and city officials personal Facebook pages to get the information out about what was happening.
"Ferndale Patch was a great source of information, but the city should have an official source of getting the word out," Councilman Scott Galloway said.
During the outage in July, Coulter sent out robocalls telling residents the Gerry Kulick Community Center would open as an all-night cooling center for those looking to cool off during the nearly 100-degree weather. But it didn't go to every resident.
Coulter had an idea of adding a database that residents could sign up for to receive alerts either via text or phone, similar to the robocalls but reaching more residents. There was also discussion about utilizing social media for instances like this as well. "The city has to have a Facebook page," Coulter said.
Not just communicating, but interacting
Piana discussed ways that the city could use social media beyond basic communication. "We can get feed back from voters, polling systems – poll the community in a new way," she said.
She added that the city should make use of these new technologies and integrate them into the cities new website. "We're not just putting info out, but interacting with our residents and businesses," she said.
The website, Piana added, needs to be attractive and user friendly to not just current residents and businesses but also new residents and future businesses.
Galloway added that he would like to see a more informal discussion available on a new website that could include a mayor's blog or blogs from the department heads.
Improving, but you can still pay at the counter
McGrath said that although the hope is to bring in aspects of paying taxes and water bills, among other city services, the traditional way of doing business will still be offered.
"We want to take a look at website and focus it in a new direction, make it more user friendly, have the ability to be self-directed," she said. "Not only for residents but it's the staff's wish as well. If you can do business on the website, there is less traffic on phones or front desk. Still, there will always be that component."
McGrath added that consolidating city websites under one platform will also improve efficiency. Currently, the city has separate websites for the Ferndale Police Department, Ferndale Recreation, city government and the 43rd District Court. "Each would have their own home," she said. "Reasons for doing that would be to save on cost, time by having them on one platform."
The management of the new sites would come out of the city manager's office.
But these are all the things that council wants to see one new site.
What doesn't it want to see?
"Things that blink of flash," Piana said.
This was a preliminary discussion on the upgrades to the website. McGrath said request for proposals have gone out yet. Specific upgrades haven't been determined yet, thus cost is still unknown.