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.
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.
Years ago, the Town of Maggie Valley used to be known as a place where governance didn’t always take place in full sunshine.
The Town of Canton’s website was the subject of discussion during recent budget hearings, as some questioned the need for spending $25,000 (plus $5,000 for marketing) on a new one.
Considering Bryson City didn’t even have a website until 2009, it’s no surprise that it lags behind the other municipalities’ web presence.
With the lowest population and the lowest county budget, Swain County also scored the lowest among the four-county website comparison.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ website received the lowest score of any of those reviewed by The Smoky Mountain News, coming in with an overall 1.4 out of 5.
Sylva’s website, last overhauled in 2010, will be getting a facelift this year after the town board voted to spend $3,000 on a redesign of the town’s website and logo.
Kelly Fuqua doesn’t have a problem saying she’s pretty proud of Jackson County’s website. Before she overhauled it in 2011, the site was getting “complaint after complaint,” and she sank a lot of work into fixing the problem.
The town of Franklin’s website is a great example of a small town going the extra mile to encourage public participation in local government.