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Councilman Leading Charge To Revise City’s Website

POSTED March 8, 2011 11:36 p.m.

For anyone who’s navigated the City of Oakdale’s website, they know some of the barriers to obtaining information or a lack of available services such as paying bills online.

First-year city councilman Jason Howard has been tasked with reconstructing the city’s site to be more manageable and to provide more services. Howard has been working with computer software for the last 14 years and owns a software company specializing in video and movie post-production.

“Ideally, what needs to happen is a complete revamping,” said Howard. “It’s a matter of figuring out how to best organize things.”

Howard has been meeting with the city’s technical ad-hoc committee consisting of department directors since given the go-ahead at a past council meeting when he brought up the subject of the redesign. He said initial discussions showed one thing was certain; the city’s current website needed the examination and an update.

Progress, however, has been slow due to limited available finances for the upgrade.

Howard’s plan to keep costs reasonable is to use a system that uses an “open source” framework. The “open source” concept is that the site operation and upgrades are available and at no charge. Modifications to the system in the future also would be at no cost.

A number of city services were discussed for possible placement on the City of Oakdale’s website. The ability to purchase licenses and permits online were among some of the ideas.

Howard said traditional e-commerce sites such as PayPal or Google Checkout could be used where the citizen uses a “shopping cart” system similar to other on-line shopping sites.

Additionally, on-line reporting for the police department for low level misdemeanor crimes with no suspect should be added to the website.

“A form already exists that could be put online to be filled out by crime victims that normally wouldn’t call the police for minor issues,” Howard said. “It’s important to get a real idea of what is happening in town.”

Howard also said that having the website interface with other city systems would give citizens better service to where they could see where a permit’s status was or notify dog owners or business owners when a renewal license fee was due.

“The process would save a lot of staff time,” Howard pointed out. “However, we do have a population that is more comfortable going to City Hall.”

One area in need of an upgrade, officials added, is the way the city puts documents on the website. Currently documents are scanned and put on the site in PDF form that does not allow a search by word or subject. Howard is pushing that the upgraded site uses optical character recognition software for the scanned documents.

Howard also feels a reconfigured website would invite more users. He believes anything the city does should be accessible via the Internet.

“The city has what I categorize as a ‘PR’ problem where we’re not relating to our citizens, Howard said. “I see the website as a good public relations tool to the community.”

Howard invites interested persons to contact him at (209) 918-3003 or email at jhoward@ci.oakdale.ca.us.

“Ideas, suggestions, complaints, rants,” said Howard, “I’ll listen to it all.”

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