TO:                  Mayor and Town Council


FROM:            Technology Committee


SUBJECT:       Responses to Council’s November 15, 2004 Questions and Comments


DATE:             January 10, 2005



In 1998 the Chapel Hill Town Council chartered the Technology Committee to give advice concerning technological matters to the Town Council.  On Monday, November 15, 2004, the Committee had an opportunity to actively engage with the Council and listen to questions posited by the Council.  The Committee is very appreciative of this opportunity for discussion and an interchange of thoughts.


As one might expect from the first opportunity for such an interchange, the Committee sought to convey many ideas which limited time for the Council to ask questions.  But certainly for the questions that were asked, we thought it might be useful to succinctly articulate in writing our collective thoughts on an answer.  To that end, below are answers to questions some of which have been paraphrased to encompass a number of concepts.


What is e-democracy?

At the simplest level, it’s about creating opportunities for ordinary citizens to use various technologies to participate in government processes and obtain services.  The technological revolution that has given us the Internet and email along with mobile communications has opened up new possibilities for ordinary people to participate in the development and implementation of policies that affect them, and to communicate their needs in relation to the design and delivery of government services.  For some citizens this may make them feel more involved, articulate and empowered.


A Citizen has a complaint and sends an email to Council members a/o the Manager - how does e-democracy solve this?  What about privacy?

E-democracy in and of itself does not solve the issue of what a government representative does with complaints or issues received from citizens.  E-democracy provides alternative mechanisms for collecting general trends in citizen concerns relative to particular issues and can provide summary reports to Council and staff.  Privacy (i.e. confidentiality) will be addressed by implementing best practices.  


What is the cost of entry into such a system for the Council and citizens?  What is the additional time investment to keep Council up-to-date?

The full cost of time spent by citizens relative to the use of digital technologies to provide input to government representatives is in-determinable but just like today is very much dependent upon the level of desire for individuals to interact with government representatives.  For example, the number of people who show up for town meetings varies dramatically with the issues involved, their own desire to be involved, and the degree of impact particular issues have upon their personal lives. 


The true cost of entry will involve the development of an information architecture plan (detailed in part in the web strategy), infrastructure changes and policy development.  The Committee plans to submit to Council in the February time frame recommendations in this area.  Expanding the availability of digital technologies in support of e-democracy can increase the level of citizen participation and provide Council and Staff more timely (and accurate) information about constituent views of policies that might be adopted to resolve particular issues.  Like all innovations, the initial time investment for Council, staff and citizens will probably increase, but typically with time it reaches some steady state.


How are citizens without computers able to participate (there is a widening the gap for some)?

The Committee is sensitive to this issue.  Today in Chapel Hill, citizens can access the Internet from the library, schools, UNC, the senior centers and other locations open to the public.  As part of future recommendations for infrastructure initiatives, the Committee will propose additional opportunities for making access publicly available, including a wireless network.  


How will you collaborate with other agencies to insure collaboration and avoid duplication of services? 

Our committee has representatives from UNC, Orange County and even one member currently doing some work with Carrboro on their web-site strategy. Through these individuals, we can expect some level of interaction with the appropriate agencies.  We would also expect Council members and some town employees/managers to provide some interface with their counterparts in such jurisdictions/organizations to aid in fostering inter-governmental collaboration.  In addition, we have representatives from the Library, school and police departments who regularly attend our meetings.  This helps to foster better intra-governmental communication. 


What is the GIS investment, and how does hiring a consultant address this? 

The web strategy proposal provided to the Council (and attached)provides for the information architecture, policies, and detailed design needed to consolidate current department web sites and linkages to GIS.  The Committee will submit a proposal for investment in an enhanced GIS system along with an infrastructure proposal in the February time frame.


How does Charlotte know that e-democracy is working?  What will be our measures of success and how will they be measured? 

Charlotte Mecklenburg is pursuing digital government.  Their mission is to save time and money with online services in the broad categories of: Home & Community, Public Records, Our Environment, Property & Taxes, Payments, Elections & Officials, Public Safety, Streets & Transit, Building & Construction, and Maps & locations.  The Committee will contact the Charlotte Mecklenburg IT Department to learn about their e-democracy philosophy, and how they measure success in accomplishing their mission.  We will report back to Council on this.


A broader analysis gleaned from the Center for Digital Government’s ranking of the Top 10 Cities with a population of 125-250,000 includes Winston Salem #2 (2003) and #10 (2002).  Winston-Salem’s efforts are directed at citizens and include subjects ranging from surveys on parks and recreation services and street closings to online payment of utilities and bid opportunities.


The Center for Digital Government’s 2004 Top10 Counties ranking with a population of 500,000 or more includes #8 Wake County, which offers online payment of taxes, business listings, GIS maps and a useful search function.


The Center for Digital Government’s 2004 Digital States Survey ranks North Carolina #10, tied with Colorado.  In 2002, for example, North Carolina ranked #25.  For more information on the Center for Digital Government, their URL is .



How will you further clarify the scope of work for the consultant?

We have a somewhat detailed scope of work developed for a consultant (attached.)  We will further enhance the specificity to be sure the deliverables are well defined and reasonable and coordinate with on-going work of the Town’s IT Department.  


Could savings from wringing out system inefficiencies and detailed planning mean that the consultant pays for himself? 

We strongly believe there are several areas of potential savings.  Among these, as mentioned above, is the potential of consolidating existing individual departmental web sites, and resulting elimination of duplicated development and maintenance costs.


In summary, we recognize some of the concepts we have presented are not concise and will require further explanation and discussion. We hope to have an opportunity to do that. We also believe the effort to incorporate these concepts, in one form or another, into our services for our citizens will prove beneficial.



Current Committee Members:


Ralph Beisner

Gregg Gerdau

Brandon Perkins

Terrelle Buckner

Dr. William Groves

Roscoe Reeve

Aris Buinevicius

Steve Irving

Alan Rimer (Chair)

Evelyn Daniel

Karim Kheireddire

Donald Shaw

Joel Dunn

Uzoma Nwasu




Town of Chapel Hill

Proposed Website Strategy[1]

Technology Advisory Board

Subcommittee:  Ralph Beisner, Terri Buckner, Evelyn Daniel




The Town of Chapel Hill supports the goals of e-democracy through its public website.  Citizens will be able to conduct business, search vital records, communicate with Town staff/officials, and receive regular, customized updates on events, policies, and opportunities in those areas of Town operations that are of particular interest to any citizen.  Citizens include private individuals; business people; university faculty, staff and students; Town and county staff; federal agency staff; and visitors – all who live, play and work in Chapel Hill and the surrounding area.  The website is accessible without need for client server software in homes, libraries, homeless shelters or wherever connection to the Internet is available.  The website is compliant with the Americans for Disabilities (ADA) Act.


In order to provide such access, Technology Advisory Board urges the following general strategy and project plan.



General Strategy


The website will provide an easily accessed, integrated, standards-based site.  It will provide access to:


The website will integrate well with the planned Town Intranet.  Regular maintenance and updating will be sustainable with current staffing. 



Project Plan


To accomplish these goals, we propose the following process:



Proposed Date




Oct. to Dec. 2004

Hire a consultant.  Contract with an individual knowledgeable in the area of e-democracy and website development. 


Jan-Mar 2005

Internal.  Analyze current departmental websites, management activities, and budgets for purpose of potential consolidation and standardization


Jan-Mar 2005

External.  Conduct focus groups with Town employees and citizens by department/functionality to create a fine-grained information design plan.




Metrics.   Identify usability elements of the website that should be standardized, such as search ability, navigation, and functionality.  The goal is to keep the overall site manageable, usable and engaging. 


Apr-May 2005

Archive.  Develop a detailed archiving strategy that is consistent with state requirements (MARC 21, NC ECHO)


June 2005

Content.  Based on internal and external analyses, identify external content needed to supplement web page content (by department/functionality)


June 2005

Development Strategies.  Identify document development strategies that comply with usability standards (Metrics) and archiving standards (Archive).


July 2005

Confirm Assumptions.  Meet with Technology Advisory Board and interested Town staff to present assumptions and gain agreement on general plan.


Aug-Sept 2005

Deliverable.  Deliverable is a detailed design and mock-up (prototype) with cost and staff required to produce finished product.




The estimated cost for this development activity is between $40-50,000.  It is to be accomplished in one year. 



[1] Note:  This document is not a stand-alone item.  It will become part of a larger CTC Strategy document.