Union City residents can finally get information about public meetings, voter registration, and city history from City Hall’s revamped website, which until recently had suffered from a lack of updates.
Mayor Brian Stack acknowledged during his spring re-election campaign that some of the information on the city’s website, www.ucnj.com, was out of date. In other area towns, like Hoboken, mayors have tried to add more information to their websites to make government more transparent.
“We’re not proud of the website that we have right now,” Stack said months ago.
In March, the city awarded a one-year, $16,000 contract to a company called Redstage in Hoboken, which boasts Sony, MTV, and even Hillary Clinton as some of its clients.
The revamped site’s launch date was July 29.
New to the site
For the first time, the site includes both agendas for and schedules of upcoming public meetings such as the Board of Commissioners. The site does not include the resolutions and ordinances voted on, nor does it have videos of the meetings, as Hoboken’s site does. A city spokesman said that while there are no present plans to include those features, it is still possible to add more to the site in the future.
The updated city website can be seen at www.ucnj.com.
And a link to do things like pay parking tickets will also now be available.
Boldly displayed on the side of the page is a link to “Report a Problem to the Mayor,” which brings residents to a form where they can provide information on city issues. Personal information such as an e-mail or phone number is required so the city can respond.
Stack spokesman Mark Albiez said those who fill out the form will first hear from a mayor’s office employee personally (no automated e-mails) to let them know their request has been received. The mayor will directly reach out once a solution to the problem has been reached.
Updates to the old The new “About Us” or “History” portion of the site was written by City Historian Gerard Karabin. Albiez said the city relied on help from various departments and residents to rebuild the site.
Albiez himself spent months expanding the individual information for links under Departments and Services, many of which previously contained one-sentence snippets of information.
Items like the calendar now include events for the upcoming month, and will continuously be updated – a big difference from the calendar on the previous site, which still had events from September of 2009 posted as recently as July 2010.
News stories will be directly linked from publications such as The Union City Reporter and will be archived so in the future residents can find older stories as well.
A link to Requests For Proposals (RFP)’s, which was the only portion of the old site that had been updated as recently as July 2010, is also available. RFP’s are requests for contractors to bid for city jobs and contracts.
In English and Spanish The entire site can be still be viewed in English or Spanish, thanks to Alexandra Vidal, a mayor’s office intern and 2009 graduate of Rutgers who helped translate all of the pages.
Though the new site has officially launched, Albiez said the city will continue working on it in the coming months as they receive input and feedback from residents.
“It is a work in progress,” said Albiez. “It’s by no means a finished product.”
Residents can submit suggestions for the site via the site itself, or the old-fashioned way, by heading to City Hall.
How transparent are they?
The updated city website has been touted as an effort to “make government more accessible” by Stack. However, some have questioned his motives, based on his vote against the Transparency in Government Act, which passed on June 10.
The bill called for the establishment of a state public finance website to post budget information online, and would require certain public entities receiving state funds to do the same. This would include items such as school board budgets.
Stack and fellow state senators Sandra Cunningham and Nicholas Sacco, all from Hudson County, were the only three in the state Senate to vote against the bill.
According to Albiez, Stack declined to back the bill because it would require those public entities to hire staff to make the information available online.
He said residents who want the information can make a public records request. He said in many cases, it can be provided in electronic form by the city clerk or school board secretary.
However, the inclusion of such information online would make it available automatically (and thus quicker than the current system). According to Albiez, Stack said the benefit didn’t outweigh the potential cost.
Creating new content to be added to the current Union City website, Albiez said, will be the responsibility of the existing City Hall staff and requires no new city employees. That information will then be uploaded to the site by Redstage.
For more information, visit www.ucnj.com or call (201) 348-5700.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.