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CHATROOM - IAN MORGAN LOOKS ACROSS THE POND

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Local government commentators often turn to America for lessons on good and bad practice. It is worth looking at pr...
Local government commentators often turn to America for lessons on good and bad practice. It is worth looking at progress there in e-government.
The most obvious local success story is www.access.wa.gov/. This is the official site of Washington State and its associated cities. It has won just about every American e-government award there is, including the Center for Digital Government's (www.centerdigitalgov.com/) Digital State of the Year for the third year in a row. The centre ran a year-long survey, in conjunction with Compaq, into the ability of state-level authorities to deal electronically with constituents. The issues it covered included electronic commerce and taxation, social services and the courts, digital democracy, and education.
New York's approach to local government on the internet tackles local government online in a slightly different way. Rather than having a website covering all aspects of its work, New York has separated its site into two distinct areas.
The first is www.ci.nyc.ny.us/home.html. This site is effectively the 'official' New York City website with information on the elected officials of the city. It includes links to the mayor's homepage, summaries of his speeches and news stories affecting services.
The other half of the site - www.council.nyc.ny.us/ - is the actual City Council of New York's website containing information for the New Yorkers on more technical council issues like the council's budget and planning. It also includes a searchable database of every local law the city council has passed since 1990, which vary from allowing members of the clergy to park freely in Manhattan to preventing cigarette advertisements being posted near any child daycare center.
The system works well because the 'separation of powers' allows each visitor to the virtual Manhattan go directly to the point of access they want without having to trawl through pages of irrelevant material.
But if the thought of taking advice from the US scares you, bear in mind one man's solution to voter apathy. Voteauction.com - now shut down - was created by James Baumgartner, a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. It offered voters the opportunity to auction off their vote. Each state's voters would offer their vote and interested parties would, in theory, bid for that state's pool of votes. Unfortunately, the website contravened just about every American electoral law and was bought by a European businessman, who plans to operate it from Bulgaria, before the first sale was made.
Ian Morgan, consultant, LGC.
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