Author Topic: Hackensack's website gets good grades  (Read 2804 times)

Offline BLeafe

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Hackensack's website gets good grades
« on: April 08, 2012, 11:31:47 AM »
Many North Jersey towns fail openness test on municipal websites

Sunday, April 8, 2012    Last updated: Sunday April 8, 2012, 8:53 AM
The Record

The information highway comes to a screeching halt in some Bergen County towns, with nearly one in seven failing to post agendas, minutes from meetings, audits or other basic information online.

Palisades Park doesn't even have a website. Teterboro has an unofficial one run by a private company. In Passaic County, Prospect Park, lacked minutes and agendas and five other municipalities did not include audits.

To see how your towns website stacks up against other municipalities, go to the Bergen Beat blog.

In an age where people post even the most mundane aspects of their lives online, municipal websites are meant to serve as central place for important local information and events.

The best municipal websites provide information on topics ranging from the local weather to help finding a job. They also tell a lot about the daily life of those communities. For example, Englewood recently featured a promotion for a local production of "The Music Man." Lodi announced "Gary's Night Out" a beefsteak dinner in support of a local firefighter. Northvale promoted a "gripe night," where residents could stop by the borough hall to air complaints.

State law does not require a municipality to host a website, said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. However, all are required to post three years' worth of budgets, she said. If a town cannot afford to create and maintain a website, Ryan said the state will create one for it and post the necessary budget data. Other items such as agendas, minutes and audits are not required.

In January, Governor Christie signed a law that will require authorities and districts such as the Bergen County Improvement Authority and local school districts to post information including agendas, minutes, budgets and audits on their websites by January 2013. However the new law does not apply to municipal websites.

Some town officials say they see no reason to put information online.

In Alpine, for example, Mayor Paul H. Tomasko said most residents can see the agendas and minutes posted on a bulletin board when they stop by the building the borough shares with a post office. If they want a copy of the audit, all they have to do is ask, he said.

Beyond that, he said, the website provides whatever is required by law.

"We try in every way possible to keep expenses down," said Tomasko, who said the borough has the lowest property tax rate in Bergen County. "We try especially hard to avoid unnecessary additional expenses."

Delayed by cost

Palisades Park Mayor Jim Rotundo said he had hoped to have a borough website up last year, but other projects and the slow economy caused delays. He said the borough has been looking into municipal website templates offered by the state.

"I have plans to have one in place later this year," Rotundo said.

Some towns go beyond what the law requires.

In Pompton Lakes, for example, the borough's website has been honored by the New Jersey League of Municipalities for the past three years, said Borough Administrator Kevin Boyle. The site includes a "transparency in government" tab that reveals salaries for everyone from the police chief to the municipal court clerk typist. Previously, people would file open-records requests to see that information.

"Why don't we just post if for the record and be done with it," Boyle said. "It made more sense to throw it up there."

In some smaller towns, however, officials have struggled with the mechanics of hosting a website.

For example, the Prospect Park website features an animated blue windmill that hearkens back to the Passaic County borough's history as a Dutch settlement. However, the site does not have agendas, minutes, a budget or an audit.

Borough Clerk Yancy Wazirmas said the town is seeking a new information technology firm. The windmill was nice, but she said the old website did not allow her to update information directly online.

Other municipal websites are still evolving. Garfield, for example, is putting up a redesigned website next week.

And several officials, such as Hasbrouck Heights Clerk Rose Marie Sees, offered to make changes to their sites when asked about documents such as audits.

"It's easy enough to do," Sees said. "If you want me to put it up, I will."

History projects

Hackensack's municipal website is a history lesson. It even includes the minutes of the New Barbados township committee meeting from March 14, 1891.

The document in the kind of elegant penmanship rarely seen today notes that the commission met at 10 a.m. that day and elected a chairman and a treasurer, who was to serve at a salary of $25 per year.

For decades, those historical minutes existed in a row of large bound volumes that lined a wall in the basement of Hackensack City Hall. But as luck would have it the job of webmaster and city historian wound up being done by the same person, Albert H. Dib.

Dib said former city historian Richard Lenk had told him about the minutes.

In 2005, Dib persuaded then-City Manager Peter Capone to have the city apply for a state grant administered through the Bergen County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs. The grant enabled Dib to take the minutes book over to a company in Lodi where the pages were scanned in. The grant also enabled researchers to search online for wherever a particular word or name appears in the City Council meeting minutes since the 1930s.

"I think of it as the collective memory of the city," Dib said.


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Offline Homer Jones

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Re: Hackensack's website gets good grades
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2012, 09:42:24 PM »
How about some kudos to Albert!

Offline Editor

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Re: Hackensack's website gets good grades
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2012, 11:55:27 PM »
Thanks.  I love this stuff. 

The Historic Meeting Minutes are here if anyone is curious:

Offline just watching

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Re: Hackensack's website gets good grades
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2012, 06:36:39 PM »
It's an amazing resource, the envy of cities everywhere.  I've spent countless hours reading the old minutes from 1945 to 1965, trying to figure out how downtown Hackensack and the surrounding streets changed from unrivaled prosperity to what it became.  That's the key time period, for sure. 

I know the malls have a lot to do with it (1955), along with the construction of the city's housing projects (1950) and multiple garden apartment buildings that were sub-par right from day #1. (1950's and 1960's).  Buildings around Anderson Park that were "luxury" apartments in 1945 were seen as outdated, worn, and old, by 1965. People instead wanted to live on the hill. All these trends spiraled together.