Having a website used to be an added bonus for local governments, but now it has become a necessity and the public and the press have higher expectations for online services and transparency.
The Smoky Mountain News editorial team decided to evaluate and score the websites of four Western North Carolina counties, six municipalities and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to see whether local governments are failing, meeting or exceeding those expectations.
Revolutionary War hero General “Mad” Anthony Wayne once told George Washington, “Issue the order, Sir, and I will storm the gates of Hell.”
Supporters of Mad Anthony’s Bottle Shop & Beer Garden on Branner Avenue are no less fired up about a ruling handed down by the Waynesville Town Board last night that now renders their food truck a pricey parking lot decoration.
Journalists responsible for news gathering in a rugged and mountainous four-county (Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain), 2,111-square-mile swath of Western North Carolina that happens to contain two sovereign nations, 11 towns, 32 unincorporated communities, 44 townships, 150,000 people, and the most visited national park in the country often rely on local government websites and the accuracy and timeliness of the information contained therein.
As the largest town west of Asheville and the county seat of Haywood County, Waynesville is the economic engine of the region, driving development and investment from Canton to Cherokee. Accordingly, its burden is high — some of the most important interactions residents will have with any local government occur on its website, almost 90 times each day.
When teen members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians come of age, they find themselves in sudden possession of a six-figure bank account. But the overnight windfall comes with risk, many tribal leaders believe, and Tribal Council took a monumental vote to change the way money is paid out to their young people — in installments rather than as a one-time payment.
Although the upcoming general election has much of the nation’s attention focused on just two candidates — a controversial populist and a former Secretary of State under investigation for mishandling classified material — local races offer considerably more palatable choices that will have a direct impact on the lives of area residents.