MuniNet Guide introduced its first collection of “Top Pick” websites back in 1997 to recognize municipal-related websites that stand out among the crowd. We recently reintroduced the feature on a monthly basis on MuniNetGuide.com.
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 December 2009:
- Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA)
- Chicago Public Schools
- American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card for America’s Infrastructure
- City of New Orleans, Louisiana
- Cumberland County, New Jersey
- Governors Highway Safety Association
1. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) marked the dawn of a new era in municipal finance disclosure when it launched Electronic Municipal Market Access – or EMMA. The system offers a greater level of transparency in the municipal bond market than ever before, earning the website a spot not only on our Top Picks for the month of December, but for the year as well.
EMMA provides access to official statements, advanced refunding and continuing disclosure documents, in addition to real-time trade activity. Introduced in phases, EMMA reached perhaps its greatest milestone on June 1, 2009, when the MSRB put into effect new rules that require underwriters to electronically file official statements and advanced refunding documents via the EMMA Dataport. The MSRB makes these documents available to the public within 15 minutes of receipt – a concept almost unimaginable ten years ago! Rules requiring issuers to file secondary disclosure documents (which are then available via the website within the hour) were put into place on July 1.
But this website’s accolades extend even further. Its structure is clean and intuitive, while it provides a comprehensive array of materials pertaining to the municipal bond market, ranging from the basics contained in its Education Center to the more granular detail offered in its Market Activity section.
2. Chicago Public Schools’ website earns an “A” in our book. One attribute worth noting is how well the CPS takes into account the diverse array of purposes for visiting the site, which contains a wealth of information for not only students and parents, but for educators, administrators, and the community at large.
The CPS website employs a unique navigation structure that provides three categories of purposes – doing something, learning something, or sharing something – with specific options within each category depending on whether the visitor is a student, parent, staff member, partner, or community resident. Yet its design is clean, and information is really easy to find.
The site offers many features that increase accountability – from a tool that allows parents to check students’ grades to school performance data and financial reports. The “District Initiatives” page provides a pathway to information about the district’s variety of programs.
3. The nation’s roads, bridges, waters systems, and even schools are in dire need of attention, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, but the website reporting the grades is in shipshape condition.
The Report Card website breaks the country’s infrastructure into 15 categories, each earning its own grade – none higher than a “C.” The site also provides an evaluation of infrastructure for each state, including “key corresponding facts,” which reflect specific infrastructure strengths and weaknesses. In addition to grades, the site provides an estimate of the costs involved in addressing the various infrastructure needs. While the news is anything but good – especially in these cash-strapped times – the message is delivered via a website worthy of acclaim.
4. While municipalities around the country are struggling to cope with the financial storm sparked by the downturn in the national economy, the City of New Orleans is still in the midst of recovering from one of Mother Nature’s strongest punches, Hurricane Katrina. Even though it’s been four years since Katrina wreaked havoc on the area, the City remains in the process of rebuilding its infrastructure – and its vitality. Its website is busy and dynamic, reflecting a flurry of activity in the City. Beginning with the “Track our Recovery” and the City News sections, the website does a superb job of keeping residents informed.
Another noteworthy feature: New Orleans’ Online Tax Sale portal – complete with interactive map – allowed registered bidders to buy properties that were up for sale due to delinquent taxes. The sale closed earlier this month, but the website listed roughly 4,000 properties at the time of the auction. Approximately half of those properties were sold. The 2009 online sale was the fourth such auction that New Orleans held. “Despite some inherent intricacies, the online process has broadened our horizons in terms of prospective buyers, and has worked exceptionally well for us,” according to Beau Button, Chief Operations Officer with Archon Information Systems, which developed this platform to allow the online tax sale.
5. Hats off to Cumberland County, New Jersey – a county with just over 150,000 residents – for taking an up-front approach to its budget challenges. While Cumberland County certainly isn’t alone in facing financial pressures, it’s among the first we’ve seen to offer concrete strategies and figures on its website. We applaud the county for being direct with its residents (and other interested parties) by telling them exactly how potential strategies – from eliminating various county jobs to changing employee insurance plans and eliminating education reimbursement benefits, for example – could translate into cost savings. The proposed budget cuts document can be accessed via this link.
6. Recently pointed out to us by a MuniNet visitor, the Governor’s Safety Highway Safety Association (GHSA), an advocacy group designed to improve roadway safety, hosts an impressive website – chock full of information for policymakers and citizens alike. One of its features is a state-by-state listing of highway safety laws – by categories ranging from cell phone use to work zone speed limits. The site also showcases noteworthy highway safety programs, like the national “Click It or Ticket” campaign, the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Teens in the Driver Seat” anti-texting initiative, and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute’s Electronic Crash Reporting system – to name a few.
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.