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Traverse City (city-New Website Unveiled

Meet Your New City Website

January 6, 2014
Meet Your New City Website

Traverse City leaders are unveiling a new official city website at tonight's commission meeting – part of an ongoing effort to better engage residents through user-friendly technology.

The overhauled website – which goes live today – is the result of a three-month redesign process by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA). City Manager Jered Ottenwess says commissioners and staff raised questions about revising the city's 5-year-old website when he arrived in office in July, frustrated with the site's disorganized navigation, limited search functionality and stale aesthetic.

“Anytime you have a website for that long, it's important to think about whether it's still efficient or if it needs to be freshened up,” Ottenwess says. “It comes down to customer service (for residents).”

Among the new website's key features are a redesigned landing page with eye-catching visuals of Traverse City, simplified navigation menus, reorganized content and a prominent search function, powered by Google, which allows users to quickly scan city ordinances, dense PDFs and other archived documents by keyword (ie “property tax” or “event permit”).

City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, whose office had a prominent role in shaping the redesign with LIAA, says the overall goal was to make the website “intuitive for someone not familiar with city government.” He sought feedback from young professionals and other residents with limited interaction with the city to identify needed improvements, such as adding FAQs to help users quickly access answers on common city issues and making the website accessible by smart phones and tablets.

LIAA, which has produced over 80 websites for municipalities and non-profits throughout Michigan and works frequently with the city to broadcast meetings through its UpNorth Media Center, has created its own content management system (CMS) called Community Center. With the CMS already developed, the organization was able to deliver a framework city staff could populate with their own content and then manage in-house, keeping the project's budget to a modest $6,500.

“It's an easier system that allows people to build (and edit) the site the same way you would browse it,” explains LIAA Technology Director Jim Muratzki. “The city had a training session with approximately 20 employees, so now various departments can manage their own web content going forward.” That's key for a city faced with staffing challenges and no IT department or web manager, points out Ottenwess.

Muratzki also says Community Center is specially adapted to “a government's workflow,” meaning the life cycle of a Request for Quotation (RFQ) or city meeting will automatically update on the website, with appropriate supporting documents (project descriptions, meeting minutes) appearing and then archiving as needed – making it significantly easier for both staff and residents to access them.

The redesigned website could be the first in a series of steps for the city to enhance its digital presence. Though there is an official Traverse City Twitter account, there's not currently a designated staff member helming it, and the city is otherwise absent from social media. Leaders like former mayor Chris Bzdok and recently elected city commissioner Gary Howe have demonstrated the potential of online blogs to engage residents in city affairs. Ottenwess says these and myriad other tools, such as smart phone apps and online platforms like CitySourced, are products TC officials have “ongoing conversations about.”

“Our biggest challenge is staffing. We're limited in terms of personnel and funding,” says Ottenwess. “And city government tends to move slower than the private sector. But the (culture) is changing. It's definitely worth us looking at what else we can do.”

Posted: Monday, January 06, 2014 12:55 PM by Jon Becker

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