Log In

Reset Password
Front Page

Residents Invited To Explore, Comment On New Town Website



Text Size

Whether you are a Newtown resident looking for municipal department information or a way to send a question to one or more town officials, or an official looking to research details in past meeting minutes, the new municipal website is ready to deliver.

As of March 1, the site is about 80 percent complete according to Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia Halstead and First Selectman Pat Llodra. Ms Halstead was the person charged with coordinating the new site's implementation, which has been in the planning stages since the fall of 2015 when a number of town officials came together under the auspices of a "Communications Initiative" Ms Halstead told The Newtown Bee.

The communications team included Ms Halstead, Mrs Llodra, Town IT Director Al Miles, Executive Assistant Sue Marcinek, Emergency Communications Director Maureen Will, and the town's former Economic Development Coordinator Betsy Paynter.

The new site, which went live in January, was not without its bugs. And there was some initial pushback from a few residents and officials alike over the removal of personal addresses, e-mail contacts, and phone numbers of board and commission members.

But most of the bugs, especially in the on-board e-mail system, have been eliminated thanks to a "work around" developed by Mr Miles.

"We were having a problem with people in the system who had a couple of particular e-mail services - AOL and Yahoo," Mrs Llodra said. "The Virtual Town Hall service provider for the website and its e-mail system was having a compatibility issue and anyone with AOL or Yahoo e-mail addresses were getting stuck and not getting through to the intended recipients. But Al created a work around, so he gets notified whenever a user's e-mail does not process, and he is able to go in and release it."

The ability for not only Mr Miles, but many town department designees to act as administrators is another significant advantage the new site and technology affords.

"In our office, minutes and agendas are much easier to administer and maintain," the town clerk said. "We also now have the ability to schedule news and announcements, and we have virtually unlimited space for minutes that may have huge files as attachments. The old site simply wouldn't take these minutes if the attachments were too large."

Many town staffers can now post their own content, which significantly speeds up information turnaround, Mr Miles said.

"From an overall administration standpoint, it's just way easier," the IT chief said. "It's faster for the departments to add or make changes to the site details, which helps them keep the information residents and visitors are looking for more current."

Mr Miles said the new site is now fully optimized, and will look and work well whether visitors are clicking in from their home PC, a tablet, or their mobile device.

"The mobile optimization is a great advantage," he said. "If you're home or on your mobile, the site still has that intuitive feel that makes it really fast and easy to use."

The real beauty and functionality of the new town site can be most appreciated on the "big screen" of a home computer or laptop, however.

"On a big screen, the contemporary look and feel of the new site is really evident," Ms Halstead said. "We based the design and layout on the best features of more than 30 different municipal website that I canvassed over a period of several weeks last year along with the assistance of an intern we brought in specifically to help support the new website changeover."

Only One Complaint

Besides a few questions about where to find things on the new site, Ms Halstead said that she has heard only one complaint, and received a number of compliments.

While infrequent or first-time visitors may take a little longer to find what they are looking for initially, the town clerk was confident that once they start using the feature-rich site, they would find it much faster and user-friendly.

"People shouldn't feel frustrated because of the new look, because it really is much more user-friendly," she said. "We've also been challenged here on the back end, learning how to best use and manipulate the new program for posting content."

That is why Ms Halstead and Mr Miles are interested to hear feedback from users.

"Anything people may be having difficulty with, or that seems easier to them, their feedback is most helpful for us so we can go in and improve the site even more," Ms Halstead said.

So, why did the town decide to upgrade and change the municipal website functions?

"It was just time," Mrs Llodra said. "We hadn't done an upgrade for years."

"And the old site and its architecture were becoming technologically obsolete," Ms Halstead added.

"We wanted to be sure our website was the right tool for the public, as well as for town staff, elected, and appointed leaders," the first selectman said. "There were some growing pains as we launched, but I think most of those are behind us."

The decision to remove home addresses and phone numbers, and to hot link e-mails through the system instead of just clicking through to the recipient's e-mail provider, was an "executive decision" made by Mrs Llodra.

Mrs Llodra said the fact that some officials wanted the info on the site while others did not was a concern, and that in years past nonresidents and commercial entities may have used the website information to solicit those whose addresses and phone numbers were posted.

"To present a uniform look and style, we just took them all out," she said.

By routing e-mails into and through the system, Mrs Llodra said the town is better able to maintain archiving of the correspondence, and will expedite any Freedom of Information requests that might be forthcoming to review one or more of those e-mails.

As far as personal information was concerned, Mrs Llodra noted that the school district removed such information several years ago on its website with no complaint.

"Let's face it, this is a government website. And it probably should not contain personal information, at least up front," Mrs Llodra said. "There is a way to click through to find some of that detail, but if someone needs to correspond personally with an official, they can just call my office and we'll be happy to provide it."

'Very Intuitive'

Mrs Llodra believes users will find the new site's look and navigation "very intuitive."

"Some of the changes are dramatic," she said. "I find the images and fonts much brighter, and crisper. And the overall look is not as busy, although the drop downs and 'Find It Fast' button actually provide a lot more robust and faster access to information."

In the coming weeks, archived migration of minutes and agendas from meetings of many of the town's smaller boards and commissions will bring the site up to 100 percent functionality. At that point, users may begin to explore some of the other features that would have been impossible to implement on the old site.

"We have the ability, the almost limitless ability, to embed things like images and videos," Mrs Llodra said.

"I'm looking forward to doing something like a blog, to help visitors to the town clerk's page take full advantage of all the resources we offer," Ms Halstead added.

"Check it out, click around, and let us know about any problems you may encounter," Mr Miles said. "We'll get right to work with the vendor making it right."

"Our Virtual Town Hall vendor has an amazing support staff," Ms Halstead said. "Someone helps you immediately and either they make the changes needed on the spot, or they walk us through the steps on how to do it and back it up by sending the instructions on what we just did."

Anyone wishing to reach Ms Halstead directly with questions or compliments about the new site can call 203-270-4210.

First Selectman Pat Llodra reviews a number of the features available on the new and improved municipal website. Mrs Llodra, Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia Halstead, and IT Director Al Miles invite residents to check out the site's larger, brighter fonts, icons, and drop menus designed to help users navigate more quickly to information and services. The site also features an e-mail system that routes messages or questions to either individual board and commission members, or their entire board. (Bee Photo, Voket)
Comments are open. Be civil.

Leave a Reply