Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Citizen Advisory Committee Gets Reports on Oconee County Spending on Web Operations

Parks and Rec Site Reviewed

Oconee County administrative departments are spending about $35,500 annually hosting and operating the county’s web sites, according to an inventory of costs County Commissioner Margaret Hale presented last month to the Citizen Advisory Committee on the Oconee County Web site.

The county’s departments are spending $10,168 for hosting costs for their sites and $25,280 in personnel costs, according to the report.

Hale did not attend the meeting, which was held April 19 in the Glass Room of the Oconee County Library.

Prior to the meeting, Hale had given me a copy of the report, which I shared at the meeting with Committee members Sarah Bell, Dan Matthews and Kate McDaniel.

The Committee, formed in late 2010, is self-appointed and has taken upon itself the task of examining the operation of the county web sites. The goal is to offer suggestions to the County on policy and development of the sites.

I formed the Committee, with the recommendations of the leadership of the local Democratic and Republican parties and by including volunteers who stepped forward. Commissioner Hale joined the committee to provide liaison with the Board of Commissioners.

The county is spending $16,250 for the staff member who updates the main county web site, $5,000 for staff time in the Economic Development Office and the Tourism Department, $2,140 for staff time in the Parks and Recreation Department, and lesser amounts for staff time in Public Works, the Senior Center and the Property Appraisal Department.

Whitney Byce

The County is spending $7,500 for the Qpublic database of the Property Appraisal Department.

The Information Technology Department is spending only $240 annually in hosting charges for the county’s main web sites, but Parks and Recreation is spending $948 and Economic Development and Tourism together are spending $1,000.

Alan Theriault, administrative officer for the county, compiled the lists of expenses at the request of Commissioner Hale.

Whitney Byce, who has responsibility for the web site of the Parks and Recreation Department, attended the meeting on April 19.

She said Parks and Recreation created its own web site in 2004, linked to the main county web site, because it needed to be able to update things more quickly than was otherwise possible and because it needed to be able to process financial transactions for user fees.

“We were not able to instantly update it,” Byce said. It can take a couple of days to get information updated on the county site, she said.

Byce said the department had upgraded the site about a year ago after looking at what other similar departments around the country were doing. She said the goal was to make the site attractive and user friendly.

She said the department also is using Facebook and Twitter to communicate.

“We are really trying to expand all of the ways of promoting the department to help the growth of the department,” she said.

Committee member Sarah Bell had interviewed Oconee County Tax Commissioner Harriette Browning and reported that Browning is spending $3,540 for web services not part of the county’s operation.

Bell also reported that Clerk of Courts Angela Watson currently does not have a web site.

Hale reported that Sheriff Scott Berry told her that he pays only “a minimal fee” for hosting his site and does not spend any money to update it. The sheriff is aggressive in promoting his web and social media activities.

In an advertisement taking up about half of a page in The Oconee Enterprise on March 31, Berry said “Oconee County has a Sheriff who listens” and invited readers to see what “Scott Berry has to say” on Facebook, on Twitter and on his web site.

The Committee has not yet contacted the office of Probate Court Judge David Anglin, the fourth constitutional officer of the county.

Also yet to be studied are the web activities of the Oconee County Board of Education.

I told the Committee that I had been contacted by two University of Georgia faculty members who live in Oconee County and who volunteered to help the Committee after reading about the Committee’s earlier meetings.

Jeffrey Howells and Craig Piercy of the Terry College of Business told me when I met with them in February that they have worked with other governments trying to understand their needs and the opportunities provided by the Internet and could provide similar services to the committee and Oconee County.

The Committee plans to hold its next meeting on May 17 at a location to be announced.


Lisa said...

I don't live in Oconee County, but this post is such a model of clear, clean, basic public affairs reporting that I read the whole thing.

I hope the residents of Oconee appreciate what you're doing for them.

Anonymous said...

If Scott Berry or any of his employees are updating his website and social media while on the clock, then he is spending money on updating it.

The county should have some consistency for its web sites. Post every single pertinent document (agenda's, meeting minutes, line item budgets, etc.).

Unknown said...

In order to clarify, there are ONLY certain people allowed to update our web, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Myself, Chief Deputy Lee Weems, and each of the division commanders of patrol, communications, and the jail.
They are not hourly employees, as each is exempt under FLSA. We update it 24 hours a day based on need and conditions. They get paid to perform certain tasks, and they do not punch a time clock. They (we) are paid whether we are updating the website or not.
Of course, no one contacted me prior to this being posted online.