Study: City e-gov evolving

Some cities are making progress with electronic government, but others aren't even doing the basics

Cities on the Internet 2001: E-Government Applied

Although most city Web sites are just an "electronic brochure," municipal

officials are viewing e-government in a more holistic and strategic manner

than before, according to a new nationwide study.

But the study, "Cities on the Internet 2001: E-Government Applied,"

also reported that an overwhelming majority of cities don't accommodate

disabled users online or post privacy notices.

"Especially with privacy, across the board, being one of the most controversial,

talked about, media-driven issues on the Internet...and you wonder, "Boy,

how did they miss that?' " said Gregory Curtin, chief executive officer

of the Civic Resource Group (CRG), the Santa Monica, Calif.-based private

organization that conducted the study.

CRG provides consultation and Internet services mostly to municipal

agencies, he said, although it also deals with state and federal agencies.

The group looked at Web sites of 224 cities with populations of 100,000

or more, based on recent census data, and judged them on 70 different variables,

ranging from policies to online services.

Curtin said cities are emerging from an initial phase of creating Web

sites and posting static information. They are now are taking a more comprehensive

and strategic approach to implementing e-government. "This is something

that is brand-spanking new," he said.

The study found that 8 percent of sites included a privacy statement,

and 40 percent used "cookies" to identify repeat visitors without informing

them. Operators of 11 city sites, or 5 percent, said their sites were accessible

to users with disabilities, even though follow-up testing showed that none

complied with the current accessibility guidelines adopted by the World

Wide Web Consortium and the federal government.

Surveyors found a low level of online transactional services, such as

enabling people to pay parking tickets. And although 79 percent of cities

provide access to meeting agendas and 57 percent post meeting minutes, that

leaves a significant percentage of cities that don't offer these basic items.

"In my mind, if I'm a city, that's the first and foremost thing I make available,

yet they have not made it accessible or easily accessible," Curtin said.

The slow adoption of e-government among cities is both good and bad,

Curtin said. It's bad because cities are way behind state and federal agencies

in providing online services, but it's also good because they can "leapfrog"

over mistakes made by other governments, implement a better range of products

and services at a lower price, and gain greater savings, he said.

NEXT STORY: Measuring success