The county’s website is fairly straightforward and easy to navigate, but some features are harder to find or are completely missing altogether. Compared to the other counties, Swain’s web presence doesn’t measure up when it comes to governmental transparency.
Residents are able to find out when and where county commissioners hold their regular meetings and they can read what’s on the agenda for each meeting, but they aren’t able to access minutes in a timely fashion. The website has an archive of minutes from 2003-15, but they are incomplete and sporadic. Without posting up-to-date minutes on the website, residents would have to attend the county meetings or request a copy of the minutes from the county clerk in order to know what action commissioners have taken.
Jackson, Haywood and Macon counties also include backup documents attached to the commissioner meeting agendas, which gives the public more information about each issue that comes before the board. Swain County does not provide such documentation on its agendas or on the website. Those documents are also public record and can be requested from the clerk.
The other counties typically post a copy of the proposed fiscal budget on their websites to allow the public to review it and ask questions during budget workshops or the public hearing prior to final approval. However, the public can’t access a copy of Swain’s proposed budget or even a copy of approved budgets from previous years. Again, the county would have to provide a copy of the budget to members of the public upon request.
County Manager Kevin King said the county first established a website in 2000 for the low cost of $50 a month. The cost is now $600 for hosting services plus an additional expense to be able to offer online mapping and tax payment services.
The website was created in house and the last major upgrade was in 2012. Employees have the ability to update and make changes to the site but resources are spread thin, leaving the website as a low priority. Not being able to spend money on equipment to record their meetings is understandable, but it would take little effort to begin posting meeting documents, minutes and budgets online to create more government transparency and access.
2016-17 Budget: $17.3 million
Annual website expense: $600
Initial website expense: $50 per month
Year launched: 2000
Avg. visits/month: 6,250
Avg. unique visitors/month: 3,750