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 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 February 2010:
- Texas Window on State Government
- Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Information for the Tax-Exempt Bond Community
- Washoe County, Nevada
1. If you’ve ever wondered about the truth in political claims, here’s a website you’ll want to keep handy: FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Described as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit ’consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics,” the website verifies facts and figures used in political ads, speeches, interviews and other public platforms. We love the site not only because we applaud its mission, but also because it is a clean, well-organized resource. Timely, informative, and powerful are three words that come to mind in describing this website, which features articles, videocasts, “wire” posts, and answers to questions posed by visitors. “We get a lot of suggestions from the public, and when we think there is an interesting question that we can answer, we’ll post something to the Ask FactCheck section of the site, “ says Justin Bank, Fact Check Research Coordinator. The site was launched in 2003, according to Bank, who says that the site is geared toward anyone interested in facts in politics.
2. In a January 2010 article entitled, “Trend Toward Transparency in State Government Finance,” MuniNetGuide reported that more than half of all states now have spending transparency websites. While most of these sites are quite good, there are a few that simply emerge as the cream of the crop. This month, we recognize Texas’ Window on State Government – Where the Money Goes. There are several ways to search for data on the site. One tool allows the user to select an agency (e.g., State Municipal Bond Bank) and a fiscal year (e.g., 2009) to see exactly “where the money went.” Even within each expenditure category, each line item can be selected for more detail. A Budget and Expenditure tool allows for comparison between budgeted and actual expenses for fiscal years back to 2007 and up through the current year. (Note: Users must enable pop-ups on the site in order to use these tools.) The “Where the Money Goes” site is one of five websites that comprise the Open Book Texas initiative enhancing the transparency of state government. Others include the “Texas Stimulus Impact,” which provides ongoing reporting of the use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and a “Transparency Checkup” site, which links to county and local government, school district and other public authority spending sites.
3. At first glance, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) website is clearly a great resource for commuters. In addition to schedules and interactive maps, the site’s home page also features service alerts showing escalator outages, bus delays, etc., as well as transit news. An impressive trip planner allows commuters to enter a starting point – address, intersection, or landmark – and a destination, and the tool will return the route number, a map, estimated travel time, and when available, alternative itineraries. But digging deeper into the site, it becomes apparent that the impressive content doesn’t stop here. Hardly. The “About the MBTA” section of the site is full of great finds, starting with the MBTA Scorecard, a monthly report showing ridership and performance data, including vehicle reliability and infrastructure quality. The Document Library, searchable by type of document or keyword, contains a variety of materials, from commuter rail schedules to financial reports. The site also includes a section devoted to “T-Projects,” focusing on improvement and renovation projects – past, present, and future – including project descriptions, updates, and in some cases, photos and/or drawings.
4. The Municipality of Anchorage website has so many notable features that we can’t possibly name them all. But we can certainly point out a few favorites … A section entitled “How We’re Serving You” acts as a portal for information about (and links to) area projects and initiatives, from the Port of Anchorage Expansion to “Rust in Peace,” a campaign designed to remove abandoned vehicles from city streets and residential property. The “My Neighborhood” feature integrates information from a variety of city agencies, and is organized by topic, from education to public safety, recreation, services, and more. Anchorage’s website includes an impressive collection of online maps and mapping applications, as well as an opportunity to conduct a wide variety of transactions electronically. The site is very consistently organized among departments, allowing users to easily locate information. It also provides some unique, handy navigational features, including an Employee Search tool, and buttons that allow users to increase or decrease font size or send a page to print.
5. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – Information for the Tax-Exempt Bond Community is a vast collection of valuable reference materials pertaining to tax-exempt investing. While not designed to be stimulating reading, this site does offer some very good informational articles, as well as statistics and links to IRS forms. The site is organized by sections specifically geared toward municipal bond professionals, bondholders, conduit borrowers and issuers. The Tax-Exempt Bond Statistics page provides an annual breakdown of the number, type, and purpose of tax-exempt bond issues.
6. Washoe County, Nevada’s tag line boasts its dedication to “excellence in public service” – and what better way than to start by asking for citizens’ input?! Washoe County’s website encourages a high level of citizen involvement in County government, earning it a spot as an honorable mention in this month’s Top Picks. Headlining current news is an invitation for citizens to participate in a budget survey, which will remain on the website through May. The survey includes an exercise in allocating budget dollars, as well as answering questions about budget priorities and additional taxes to cover various expenditures. In addition to this budget survey, the County’s Citizen Involvement page lists the 50+ opportunities for citizens to serve on boards and commissions, including current openings.
Submit your Top Picks Nominations
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.