TEMPERANCE - Call it the town hall's town hall.
As part of a general redesign of its award-winning Web site, Bedford Township has added a new feature that township officials think has the potential to add the spark of democracy into what can otherwise be boring political debates.
Though it is tagged with the cumbersome moniker "Bedford Community Forum Discussion Group," the new Web site feature allows local residents to sound off to township officials and their neighbors in general about topics and issues of concern.
Or, frankly, whatever else is on their mind.
"Within 10 minutes after I first put it up on the Web, we got our first [post]," said Dennis Jenkins, Bedford Township's planning and zoning coordinator, who also doubles as Bedford's Web master. "Once we get it started and once people start using it, I think we'll get some good feedback on it."
The online forum, which is prominently displayed on the township's Web site, www.bedfordmi.org, allows those with a computer and an Internet connection to post their comments on virtually any issue, and to have those comments commented upon by others on the site.
"We're very excited about it," clerk Bob Schockman said.
The community forum certainly isn't new technology; in fact, such forums made up the backbone of the very earli-est versions of the Internet and are currently staples on many of the top Web sites on the Internet.
But in Bedford Township - which has been named the eighth best municipal Web site in Michigan for two years in a row - incorporating the function wasn't automatic, Mr. Jenkins said.
"I labored over it for a while," Mr. Jenkins explained, saying that he ultimately overcame concerns about personal attacks and lewd or offensive posts that might be placed into the open forum.
Mr. Jenkins said he could foresee a time when residents, using the forum, might be able to respond - in real time - to township board members during meetings.
"We've always had the ability to do it, but until we redesigned the Web page, we didn't have a place to do it," Mr. Jenkins said. "What's nice about it is that anybody can respond."
Mr. Jenkins has spent several weeks working on the redesign for the township Web site, which went live last week. Along with popular links to the township's online property information and tax and utility payment features, the new site also includes online forms where residents can report potholes and other repair needs and street and traffic lights that are out.
"What I was really striving for was something simple and attractive. We've had the eighth best municipal Web site in the state two years running. Now we're trying for No. 1," Mr. Jenkins said. "The key is keeping it current, and we keep ours current almost daily."
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