GT: What led Spokane to create a Web page?
Anderson: Two things. When I first ran for office, one of my promises was to make access to elected and appointed officials in local government, and to the information that resides in the offices of those officials, easier and less expensive for the people in our community to get to. [I wanted] a process that was much less cumbersome.
Also, one of my own personal goals and objectives for the 1995 calendar year was to bring some sort of interactive online access to not only City Hall, but to the people in the community that we represent. I went public at a number of our City Council meetings about my desire to make this available and, as you might expect, I was approached by a lot of the departments and a lot of potential vendors who wanted to set up these grandiose systems at a fairly substantial cost.
I had a couple of individuals contact me and suggest we sit down for coffee because they had some ideas. After a single dinner meeting that lasted about four to five hours, this whole idea to use a combination of a Web page and an actual interactive online forum through the bulletin board service had jelled. Literally, within three weeks of that meeting the thing was online. It was beyond incredible.
It was really a combination of my passion to expand access to local government, the people in our community and technical individuals who resided in our community and wanted to take up the challenge that brought the Web page into existence.
GT: It seems relatively unique to use both a bulletin board and a Web page. Why did you use this combination?
Anderson: One of the biggest complaints that we have locally -- and I suspect from my reading that it's true across the country -- is that people simply do not have the opportunity to communicate on a regular daily basis with their elected and appointed officials. And if they have questions that need answers, they either have to send mail or try to get through a sophisticated phone-mail system.
What we tried to do was use the bulletin board as a means to have ongoing daily dialogue with the community on issues of substance and concern to them. I committed to go into the system on a daily basis and respond to all of the posts that were made.
It's really opened up a whole new arena of communication that never existed before and touched a part of our community that, for whatever reason, is uncomfortable with coming down personally or is uncomfortable with writing letters or with talking on the telephone. They like that little bit of distance, but still need and want to be able to communicate with their elected officials. I really think we've touched a whole new segment of the community that we've never really communicated with before.
With available technology becoming more prolific and less expensive, we have more and more members of the community with computers in their homes, a very inexpensive way to get right into city hall and get direct responses from the officials.
GT: Why does the city also have a Web page?
Anderson: We saw the Web page as a better way of providing people with information that is more graphical in nature and not easily distributed over a bulletin board -- background information, pictures of the elected officials -- and as a way to publish documents like newsletters. People can go in, read them and retrieve them from the Web page. We've tried to focus on dialogue on the bulletin board.
People can literally download a virtual copy of a document that exists in City Hall without having to go down and work through the maze to request