City ups transparency

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September 6, 2011

1:16 AM

With the unveiling of a new online public transparency plan for the City of Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary Student Assembly hopes to bridge the communication gap between students and the local government.

In late August, the City of Williamsburg launched the Public Dashboards system, which measures the city’s performance on administrative and economic initiatives. The statistics listed include the overall quality of life, availability of affordable housing and average response times for police and emergency services.

“This system of Public Dashboards is a great example of how the effective use of technology can transform the interaction between citizens and their government,” City of Williamsburg Information Technology Director Mark Barham said in a press release. “This new technology enables us not only to inform the public but also to engage and educate them about their City government.”

The Public Dashboards are organized by the city’s 10 Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes (GIOs), which focus on community engagement, economic vitality and infrastructure improvement.

Student Assembly Vice President Molly Bulman ’12 lauded the initiative, but stressed the need for greater student involvement in the city’s policy.

“Over my last three years as a student, I’ve seen the language used by the city incorporate words and phrases surrounding ‘engagement’ more and more,” Bulman said in an email. “The Dashboards relate to the 10 goals and initiatives that citizens and City Council put together early last year. Unfortunately, not many students were involved in the brainstorming of these goals. And student opinions are what’s needed.”

Bulman said that the SA would be increasing its engagement with the city government in two ways. The Williamsburg Internship Program, which Bulman said was launched this year “as a means of bridging the gap between students and the local government in Williamsburg,” is the first. The second will be a Sept. 21 presentation given by members of the SA to Williamsburg Planning Commission about goals for housing and economic development.

Bulman could not provide specifics, as the SA members have not yet met to prepare the presentation, but she said that expected topics of discussion include advocating for higher-density zoning in areas near the College and mixed-use apartment buildings for student-friendly businesses.

One of the notable statistics listed in the Dashboards shows that while the availability of affordable housing in Williamsburg has increased since 2008, it is still below the national benchmark.

“We certainly have worked with the College very closely to do a project like Tribe Square,” City Manager Jackson C. Tuttle said. “And I see more opportunities for off-campus student housing.”

Tuttle said that the Dashboards system is one of the first of its kind in any jurisdiction, something unusual for a city like Williamsburg, which does not have a reputation for being particularly innovative.

“Generally, we don’t have the time and the resources to be on the bleeding edge too often,” he said. “But this is one, I think, where we went ahead and went in that direction because there wasn’t another product out there that we could adopt someone else’s system. We had to invent our own.”

“William and Mary students have always shown interest in the local government of Williamsburg,” Barham said in an email. “These Dashboards give them access to data that they have never had prior to this system.”

The Public Dashboards are accessible at www.williamsburgva.gov/dashboards and link from the City’s home page.

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