MuniNet Guide introduced its first collection of “Top Pick” websites back in 1997 to recognize municipal-related websites that stand out among the crowd. In 2009, we recently reintroduced the feature on a monthly basis on

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 January 2010:

  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Kids Count Data Center
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • King County, Washington
  • California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Midwest High Speed Rail Association

1. When we noticed Louisville, Kentucky’s Ethics Tipline – an innovative feature that promotes the integrity of local government – we had a feeling that we had stumbled upon a jewel in the land of municipal websites. And yes, the page that encourages residents and employees to report any concerns of unethical actions by government employees and officials was, in fact, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Truly, city governments looking to enhance their web presence should take a good long tour of Louisville’s website, which offers one notable feature after another.

The Your Tax Dollars at Work section, with an audio introduction by Mayor Jerry Abramson, explains how the City allocates its tax revenues, provides open access to the city’s “checkbook” as well as to a database of public employee salaries. An example of government transparency at its finest, the section also includes links to the city’s budget and annual financial reports.

While many cities have adopted capabilities to conduct electronic transactions, Louisville’s list of online services is longer than most, including some unique opportunities that we hadn’t seen before. Louisville residents can download a selection of free library audio books, purchase promotional and clothing items from the Louisville Store, and make a donation to a Metro department or program.

2. The Kids Count Data Center caught our attention as a powerful resource for tracking national, state and local statistics pertaining to the well-being of children. The Kids Count initiative is sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of economically disadvantaged children in the U.S. through public policy and community support. The Data Center provides state profiles, rankings, trends, and statistics reflecting economic status, child and infant mortality rates, teen pregnancy trends, and more. This data can be downloaded and customized. If information is power, this website offers Herculean potential to effect positive change in the lives of at-risk children.

3. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website can best be described with one word: Wow. The implications of any natural disaster – be it a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, volcano, tornado, or mudslide – can be daunting for state and local government and any agency that provides public services. Be forewarned: if you are a science buff, you may get lost in this site, which is almost overflowing with information. That aside, the USGS website is perhaps THE definitive resource for materials pertaining to all kinds of natural phenomenon, including those that pose a risk to human lives, property and land.

4. King County, Washington’s website does a great job of covering the standard fare – providing updated County news, financial information, access to public records and more. But just one step below the surface, this web site offers so many top-quality, cutting-edge features that browsing through its content is like embarking on a successful treasure hunt.

Both the Road Closures and real-time Bus Tracker features provide a great service to commuters, who can use the website to avoid construction obstacles and/or long waits at the bus stop. The real-time Bus Tracker, available by route number and map, uses Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technology to track Metro busses and to enhance security.

Another standout feature is the Issues Before the King County Council, a convenient portal that leads to detailed information about the current projects and initiatives. Particularly in these tough economic times, the Jobs page is a great tool for residents to access a list of current County employment opportunities – and to directly apply for these jobs. The Jail Register is a rather unique item that serves as a searchable roster of current inmates.

5. High speed rail is dominating news headlines these days, and two regional high speed rail sites have earned a spot on this month’s Top Picks list. The California High Speed Rail Authority website strikes that magic balance of clarity and content; its home page provides a snapshot of salient information – current news, educational materials, and Board updates. The impressive Video Gallery allows visitors to view animated renderings of California’s high-speed rail system, including various passes, stations, and stretches along the route. The Document Library is a comprehensive collection of files, including sustainability and regional economic studies, business plans and revenue forecasting models, downloadable maps, and more.  An added bonus: the library is searchable.

6. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is a non-profit organization advocating the implementation of a high speed rail system connecting cities throughout the Midwest. Its website offers a plethora of materials designed to educate the public and encourage federal, state and local officials to translate the high speed rail vision into reality in the region. Its home page does a great job of disseminating news, announcements and events, as well as action alerts. The Fact vs. Fiction section of its website takes a direct look at some of the questions, skepticism and even criticism posed by some of the nation’s think tanks. Like California’s state-run site, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association also features an online library that includes studies and presentations.

Submit your Top Picks Nominations 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.