2016-12-15 / Opinion

Keeping the Public Informed

EDITORIAL

With the newly constituted Newport City Council meeting for the first time this month, we applaud the efforts being made to further the long-held goal of improving communications with area residents.

As another new year approaches, city officials appear poised to begin moving more aggressively to hire a communications director and/or chief information officer, and on Wednesday evening councilors voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling for the development of a more user-friendly municipal website.

We would like to take this opportune time to suggest a tool that would be helpful in allowing Newporters to more easily keep abreast of the many ongoing city initiatives.

Consider these questions: What is the progress on the city’s much-discussed strategic plan? Where does Newport’s open space plan stand? What has been going on in the year since the proposed police camera pilot program was last making headlines? What are the next steps in grant applications for a fire and rescue boat, or improved bicycling amenities? When will the final stages of the Broadway streetscape be wrapped up? Is the new roof at Rogers High School complete?

A commendable goal for the new City Council would be to keep better track of these and other initiatives in a way that makes it easy for interested citizens to know what is going on. While we are confident that the city staff has internal mechanisms to keep track of the many balls in the air, serious thought should be given to implementing some type of system to help the general public be better informed on the many projects always moving forward in Newport.

A tracking system could be as simple as a weekly or monthly hard copy digest of ongoing matters, informing residents of the current status of those undertakings, what actions are pending, what next steps await, and when the item can be moved to the “done” column.

Of course, nearly everyone has access to the Internet these days, so using that new city website to disseminate such material publicly would make a lot of sense. Just to cover all the bases, however, the city might opt to make tracking statistics available in both hard copy and electronic formats.

None of this needs to be complicated. Keeping track of municipal government actions (or lack thereof) need not be complex. To be most useful, information should be presented in plain English, avoiding government jargon. And it is absolutely essential that such a system be intuitive and easy for everyone to use.

“Transparency” is one of those words that is often thrown about to describe the way a proper government program operates. “Accessibility” is another. These are essential attributes for a tracking system as well.

We understand that city leaders are pondering some of these communication issues as this editorial goes to press. We hope that our municipal leaders will also consider implementing a useful system that allows timely reports on the workings of our city government to be readily accessible to all.

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