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Published: Wednesday, 10/11/2006

Sylvania's council plans to update city Web site

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To improve communication with residents, Sylvania City Council is making plans to update the city's Web site, possibly adding such features as podcasting.

Some updated features under consideration for the city Web site at www.cityofsylvania.com are similar to those already available on Councilman Mark Bula's Web site. Mr. Bula podcasts council meetings now. He records the meetings and makes the audio available later on his Web site at www.markbula.com.

In addition, Mr. Bula's Web site also allows residents to obtain copies of council packets containing background information about items on council agenda. Residents who attend council meetings with packets in hand can more easily follow the meetings' proceedings, he reasoned.

City officials have called Mr. Bula a trendsetter when it comes to providing Sylvania residents with information, and he said he's thrilled that the city's Web site could eventually include the new features.

"I was hoping that would happen," Mr. Bula said.

If the city does offer audio recordings of meetings, city officials say a better sound system would have to be installed in council chambers. Coughing, sneezing, paper rustling, and other noise sometimes drowns out council members' comments on tape recordings of meetings.

When more information on the city's proceedings is readily available, residents tend to get more interested and involved in local government, Mr. Bula said.

"The city has seen how easy it is and how valuable it is. It makes sense to do it," he said, adding that "Government should be open."

Councilman Doug Haynam said Mr. Bula's initiative has led the city consider redesigning its Web site to provide "a much better communication mechanism" to let citizens know what goes on in council.

"Overall, the community will benefit" when the city makes its Web site more user friendly, Mr. Haynam said.

Councilman Bula was the leader too in blogging about city business. He's been blogging for awhile, but just a few weeks ago, Councilman John Borell, Jr., introduced "Borell's Blog" online at www.johnborell.com.

Mr. Borell said that a blog is a "very effective way for an elected official to communicate with citizens who can't come to meetings."

His blog includes details on city business and his views on various topics. It's a "here's what I'm thinking" message to the citizens, Mr. Borell said, noting that he can offer more in-depth explanations and reactions on his blog. "It is all about communicating with the constituents," he said.

Councilman Borell, who said that he would like to see blogs by other city officials, agreed that Sylvania's Web site is in need of an update. He said he believes the city should be at the forefront when it comes to making information readily available to residents.

Mr. Borell suggested that the city could link council meeting minutes to specific ordinances, giving residents an additional way to keep track of council's actions.

An updated Web site might also allow residents to pay bills or conduct other city-related business online, he said, such as filling out a form to alert city officials about potholes that need repaired.

"My philosophy is that the more we do in public, the more good it is going to do," Mr. Borell said. "I'm a big supporter of open meetings."An open government, he added, "keeps government officials accountable."



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