None of Oak Street's residents knew who owned the rusty old pickup truck that had been sitting on their street for a month. Every day, the Northern California city's transportation department got a few calls asking when the eyesore would be removed. But, since the city didn't have an ordinance regarding the removal of abandoned vehicles, the director of transportation was at a loss. He didn't like the idea of writing an ordinance from scratch, so he logged on to the League of California Cities' new Citylink 2000 Web site and "borrowed" an ordinance from a city 500 miles away.
The League of California Cities is an organization made up of city officials working together to exchange information, combine resources and influence policy decisions at all levels of government. One of the ways they do this is through an online system that provides information and helps city governments work together.
For the past seven years, the league has offered a dial-up, proprietary BBS, called Citylink, to its members. This service featured legislative tracking, databases and bulletin boards for discussions.
There were a few problems with the system, however. According to Michael Coleman, principal policy analyst for Sacramento, the old system was cumbersome. "Since the system had no graphical user interface and was strongly menu-driven, the majority of those who were using it were those who have the patience and the ability to surpass these hurdles," he explained. This tended to leave out a lot of city officials that the league was trying to reach. The price of the program was also prohibitive, at $600 per subscriber per year.
A NEW SOLUTION
Realizing the time had come for a radical change, the league brought together a group of Internet-savvy executives from cities all across the state and asked them for help in meeting two goals -- creating an online system that was both accessible and more user-friendly to city officials, and one that was World Wide Web-based.
So was born Citylink 2000 -- a Web site "for greater interaction between city officials that will really help them serve the citizens better and allow city officials to learn from one another," said Coleman.
The Citylink 2000 site will feature two "sides" -- one public side to feature information about the league; and one legislative side, which will be password-protected for access by league members only. Scott Freeland, Citylink 2000 project manager, sees the site as a big step toward helping city governments work together more easily.
As of November, league members were able to:
Study and track legislation -- allowing members to sort and create reports on different bills.
Maintain active bill files for any particular legislation they are tracking.
Post questions and answers to an online bulletin board.
According to Freeland, future plans for further expansion on the site include:
Free Internet-based calls to the league to help cities save money.
Streaming audio from the league's lobbyists updating cities on active legislative issues.
Sessions from the league's conferences available via RealAudio.
Training via videoconferencing on the site (when the technology is available).
According to Freeland, a big advantage of the new system is that multiple users can access the same password simultaneously. The old system only allowed the password to be used in one place, which kept a large number of interested city officials from using the program. Now all anyone needs is
With the new system, cities are not required to face the high cost associated with the old system. "In the past," Freeland explained, "there has always been a substantial cost involved. But Citylink 2000 is available for nothing but the cost of Internet access." Coleman declared that "the league is democratizing the Internet with this project. By bringing down the cost barrier, even the