Added ‘transparency’ components to delay rollout of Fort Smith city website, increase costs

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 706 views 

The launch of the city of Fort Smith’s new website will likely be pushed from May, but city administrators believe added components, such as improved access to video of city meetings, will make city government more transparent.

The city’s board of directors voted on resolutions Feb. 17 that approved two more contracts with Granicus, the Denver, Colo.-based company hired in 2021 to build a communications platform and website for the city. In September, the board approved a five-year contract with Granicus for a “Trailblazer” website and “GovDelivery” communications platform for a cost of $78,475.

The contract had the city paying Granicus $15,695 this year after the first milestone delivery, the draft homepage design concepts; $15,695 after the second milestone delivery, implementation of the main website into the VCMS on a Granicus-hosted development server; and $15,695 after completion of staff training or 21 days after total completion.

Renewal pricing for the website through Granicus will be $35,418.75 in year two; $37,898.09 in year three; $40,550.93 in year four; and $43,389.49 in year five, information provided to the board states.

The first resolution approved Feb. 17 passed authorizes a contract for Granicus to provide govMeeting, a government meeting and agenda system for the website. The city will pay Granicus $28,152 this year; $24,346.64 in 2023 and $25,945.90 in 2024.

“The Information Technology Services Department oversees the equipment used to manage and broadcast city meetings at the Blue Lion. Since moving our meetings to the Blue Lion last summer, we have made significant improvements with audio-visual accommodations and consistency for the meetings. We would like to take the next step in that evolution,” information provided to the board said.

The city’s process for posting agendas and providing livestream and recordings of the city board meetings “involves a great deal of time in manual input and communication across several members of city staff,” a memo from City Administrator Carl Geffken said.

Once meetings are recorded, there is often a significant delay before the meetings can be posted on the city’s website. The govMeeting platform provided by Granicus will allow the city to streamline the agenda creation and approval process for staff, making their work flows and presentations to the board more efficient and effective, the memo said. It also will allow the board and citizens to access meeting materials on any device.

“Meetings will be digitally recorded, making specific agenda items easily accessed by anyone. Using the govMeetings service will help staff enhance and improve transparency for city documents. Our city clerk, and any other commissions’ support staff, will be able to mark each agenda item on the digital video recording so citizens can quickly and easily access a specific item with one click,” the memo said.

With the program, anyone can search the city’s agenda section of the website and find in which meetings a topic, like the consent decree or sales tax, was discussed. They will also find the videos from those meetings with a timestamp that tells where in that video to find the discussion, representatives from Granicus told the board Tuesday.

Granicus will also offer support for live-streaming of city board meetings remotely and will be able to troubleshoot any audio or visual problems immediately during the meeting. Director Jarred Rego said the new platform will improve the city’s civic health as well as the community’s trust because of the added level of transparency the platform will bring. The city plans to launch the new govMeetings platform in conjunction with its new website.

The board also approved an agreement with Granicus for training and professional development services and engaging the Granicus Experience Group for the city’s website redesign for $165,000. The GXG service is a 12-month contract, said Shari Cooper, the city’s public relations and communications manager.

“Along with the strategic blueprint, the GXG service includes significant training and professional development for departmental staff. Our goal is to not only help staff become better communicators, but also help them move from a staff-oriented perspective to a citizen-oriented perspective,” Cooper said. “Not only do we want city staff to help generate content that is helpful to the resident or business, but also we want them to think in terms of engaging and connecting that resident or business to other information that might be helpful or interesting to them.”

Cooper said the staff finalized the overall design of the city’s new website this week.

“We are very happy with the new Granicus Trailblazer wireframe which enables us to prioritize citizen-centric information such as city services, events, news and the Future Fort Smith Plan on the new home page. The new site has a dynamic design so it will feel more engaging and allow the user to more efficiently obtain information,” Cooper said.

She said a big part of what they are doing includes “gearing up” city staff to use the new govDelivery communications platform, a tool that “enables department staff to increase transparency by providing the public with regular and pro-active communications.” In the next few months, Cooper said, citizens will be able to visit the city’s website and subscribe to specific items and topics that interest them the most.

“The communications platform will then carry over onto the new website when it gets launched,” she said.

The next step in website redesign involves scheduling workshops and initiating the development of a strategic blueprint created to inform the website’s information architecture and content migration, she said.

“Working with Granicus, we will be using the strategic blueprint to develop and arrange content that has a more citizen-centric focus. This strategic document will be heavily informed by testing and data, and will enable us design a better information architecture on the site for the citizens,” Cooper said.

With all the work still to be done, Cooper said they expect to launch the new website either at the end of this year or in early 2023.