A sampling of editor’s picks for outstanding municipal-related websites of the month …

MuniNet Guide introduced its first collection of “Top Pick” websites back in 1997 to recognize municipal-related websites that stand out among the crowd.  

What is a Top Pick?  For starters, a Top Pick website provides top quality content and exudes professionalism.  It blends surface with substance, and contains a wide range of depth and breadth of materials.  Often, a Top Pick takes an innovative approach to conveying information or encouraging dialogue.  And sometimes, it’s simply a site that earns acclaim for being a “can’t-live-without-it” level resource.

Our picks for November 2009:

  • San Diego, California
  • Civic Federation (Chicago)
  • Houston’s Airport System
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Pew Internet & American Life

1. San Diego was one of our original Top Picks, and still stands above the crowd when compared to other city websites.  One of the few websites to clearly point visitors to Investor Relations information, San Diego does so with a prominent link from its home page.  By entering an address or cross street, residents can easily access information regarding their council district, garbage pickup and other local services.  The site’s rotating “Weekly Web Feature” highlights a City department, agency, program, or section of the website – from the Park District’s brush management program to National Fire Prevention Week, homework helpers, and water reuse.  A great way to let visitors know about the wide-ranging materials contained within the City’s website, this feature keeps the home page fresh and interesting.  And, to its credit, it is consistently updated, as is Latest News.  The site is about as comprehensive as a city website can be …. truly exemplary.

2.  Increased government accountability was among the primary benefits of the Internet in its earlier days, and remains one of its greatest strengths as a tool in improving citizen-government relations. The Civic Federation (Chicago) takes the notion of government accountability to an even higher level.  The Civic Federation is a local government research organization aimed at helping state and local governments increase their efficiency by reducing their costs and improving the quality of services.  The Federation also serves as a government watchdog group, helping citizens understand and keep an eye on government spending and performance.  Its recently redesigned web site offers budget analyses, research reports, news releases, and several primers.  Among our favorites is one entitled “How Does the City of Chicago Spend Your Tax Dollars?” – designed to help citizens read and understand the City’s budget and other financial documents.

3.  Every now and then, a city web site catches our attention because of a unique and innovative feature.  When it offers more than one … it catapults the site to our attention for consideration as a Top Pick.   Case in point:  Colorado Springs, Colorado. The first time that “Connie,” the pop-up personal assistant spoke to me, I will admit jumping an inch or two off my chair.  But the interactive feature is really pretty cool, and is a great way to guide citizens (or other visitors to the site) to the right place depending on their purpose for visiting the site.  One of its other notable features on the content side is the Monthly Local Economic Scorecard, reporting key local indicators such as sales tax revenues, housing and employment statistics, and economic news.  The Mayor’s 100 Teens Program is a yearlong initiative honoring local teenagers who have accomplished significant achievements or made notable contributions to the community.  And while these features first caught our attention, the more time we spend on the site, the more impressed we become with its breadth and depth of content for residents, businesses, and visitors.

(Editor’s note: We recently learned that Colorado Springs’ Monthly Economic Scorecard was discontinued to due staffing cuts, but while it remains on the website, we recommend taking a look!)

4.  George Bush Intercontinental Airport celebrated its 40th birthday this summer, but we think that Houston’s Airport System has another reason to celebrate: a top-notch web site.  The site boasts a clean and classy look, but its appeal extends beyond appearance.  Its wide-ranging content is geared not only to travelers, but to anyone seeking information pertaining to airport operations and finance, or with an overall interest in the Houston area.  Airport operating statistics, as well as financial performance, are updated monthly and posted to the website, as are its Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).  The “Balanced Scorecard” is a unique feature that tracks themes relating to customers, employees, airport processes, and more.  Passengers can use the site’s link to get real-time flight information.  For those who have never visited the airport in person – along with those who have – the website’s photo album of the airport’s art collection is quite impressive.  Houston Airport System’s tag line reads “World Class Airports” … in our book, they can add “world class website” to that list of bragging rights as well.

5.  If ever there were a bookmark-worthy site for anyone interested in Internet trends, Pew Internet & American Life Project’s website is our runaway favorite.  Its uncluttered home page showcases current news and research pertaining to how Americans use the Internet and other technology.  The site’s Research Toolkit is full of statistics and data pertaining to elections, the economy, civic engagement, and more.  

MuniNetGuide.com welcomes your nominations for future Top Picks selections.  Please use the contact form to contact Mardee Alvaro, editor if you work with, use, or have come across a website that you think meets our criteria for quality content, innovative features, timeliness, usability and overall appeal.