Pay your tax bills online! Yay! Oh…wait… –

Read the full post with comments here. Originally posted 8/15/12 at 2:00 pm.

Last weekend I received my personal property tax bill from my friendly county treasurer. (Argh. Car tax!) A day later I received an e-mail reminder about it, with a link to pay online at the Arlington Customer Assistance Payment Portal (CAPP) here

From the site:

Sign up now! With your own CAPP profile you can:

  • Receive email reminders for bills
  • Sign up for automatic bank payments
  • View your assessment and payment history
  • Provide us with a new mailing address or other info.
  • Pay and file business taxes, renew dog licenses, and more!

To sign up online you must have a valid email address and be an Arlington County taxpayer (owners of real estate, vehicles, businesses, or licensed dogs).

I signed in, brought up my bill, and paid it. Almost painless, aside from having the car tax in the first place. I’ve mentioned before that I’m glad I live in Arlington, and this is one of the reasons. Easy access to online services. Several months ago I asked about your last non-tax interaction with your local government. Well, now I’m asking about taxes!

Does your county or city offer online bill payments or other online services and if so, do you take advantage of them? If you’re not sure, take a few minutes to go to their web sites and share what you’ve learned in the comments below.

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The local government CIO – We serve the people who serve the people

Read the full post with all comments here. Originally posted 7/20/12 at 12:30 pm.

In my continuing quest to ensure that local governments are recognized for the services they provide to the public, I bring you the first of several profiles of local government CIOs. With limited budgets, constraints from the county and state and under the unending watch of citizens, local technology departments are tasked with providing consistently reliable and ever improving services to help the public.

This week, the National Association of Counties wrapped up their 77th annual conference in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. I attended all of the Technology Summit meetings early in the conference and had the chance to chat with several county CIOs. One of our first speakers was Bill Schrier, former Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle (yes, city) and now the new Deputy Director at the Center for Digital Government, part of e.Republic. I talked to him about his time as a public employee in Seattle’s IT department and how they assisted the overall public mission of the city.

General responsibilities and day-to-day operations

With a staff of 200, Seattle’s Department of Information Technology is generally tasked mainly with infrastructure support for the entire city. They run data centers, telephone networks, public safety and radio networks, web sites services, TV channels, and help desk services. Many larger departments have their own IT units that do applications, such as permitting systems and records management systems. The city has approximately 11,000 employees, including approximately 250 additional IT professionals distributed among other departments.

A major IT responsibility is overall coordination for the entire city. With several individual IT departments, Schrier was responsible for setting policies that would cross departmental boundaries, such as standards for desktop computers and database management system requirements. In governance mode, Schrier served as an advisor and reviewed vendor contracts, made recommendations about technology investments to the mayor, city council and individual department heads. Schrier ultimately reported to the mayor.

Some of the largest city departments, such as the police department, relied on Schrier’s IT staff to install computers in police vehicles, however they used their own infrastructure staff to run servers and desktop software support. Schrier explained that this system is fairly typical in many of the larger cities in the country. Most smaller cities and counties have more consolidated IT systems, which he believes might be the better way to go for service and support. Individual department applications would still be handed separately, such as a park reservation systems or a water management system. With more and more applications and data storage heading towards cloud providers, consolidation will become a more effective and efficient option for many governments in the near future.

Schrier described a local government IT department as a customer service shop with income and expenses just like a small business, or, with a budget of $50 million in his case, a medium sized business. They buy servers, operate 24/7 data centers, and charge hourly rates for support staff services. Project management oversight, such as moving to VoIP for telephone service or updating the city’s 10,000 desktops with the latest Windows software are also IT department responsibilities.

Schrier and the IT department also contribute to the city’s economic development by encouraging tech businesses to move to Seattle. With Microsoft headquartered nearby and approximately 7,000 Microsoft employees residing in the city itself, Seattle is one of the county’s major tech centers. Schrier had meetings with the tech startup community to facilitate interaction between tech companies and the city government, and he would also would guest lecture at the University of Washington and other educational institutions.

Networking with other local CIOs and staying current on best practices in other local governments across the country allows Schrier and others to share and gather information from trusted professionals. From “What permitting software system do you use?” to vendor insights and discussions about the cloud and cyber security, networking about networking benefits local governments as a whole.

Schrier’s personal interest in public safety lead him to be instrumental in the creation of a nationwide 4G public safety network, now known as FirstNet. Earlier this year, Congress authorized $7 billion in funding for the new network that will dramatically improve first responder services. I will be writing about FirstNet in a future dedicated piece.

Ultimate goals for the public sector

“We serve the people who serve the constituents of the city of Seattle.”

As with every other local government function, taking care of constituents and citizens is the ultimate goal of IT. Governments offer services that cannot be found elsewhere: public safety, police, fire, and safe water. The purpose of IT is to make sure all of the technology that is used by the departments and functions of government is as efficient and effective as possible.


Not unlike other industries, changes and updates in technology, budget constraints, and dealing with different departments that want to do the same thing but on their own create challenges for local government IT professionals. It is unwise to have five departments use five different business intelligence systems when one customizable city-wide system might be more cost effective and efficient.

Measuring return on IT investment can be difficult to illustrate. In a budget challenged environment, investing more in technology can lead to better service delivery, however when competing for funding, showing the public the dollar benefit of switching software providers or a large investment in new desktop computers can be challenging. What’s the dollar benefit of a new police computer dispatch system? Will police vehicles arrive faster? Will crimes be solved more expeditiously? Maybe implementing a new workflow system for the water department will allow technicians to work better and save time in the field, a measureable benefit, but how do you demonstrate the ROI of moving from Windows XP to Windows 7?

Though the benefits can sometimes be hard to explain to public officials, it can be even more difficult to explain to the public. Because local government is the level of government closest to the people, local public IT employees have a different kind of contact with citizens than IT professionals at the state or federal level. Their decisions are felt at a much more personal level. Who responds when you can 911? Not the FBI. Who keeps the water flowing cleanly? Not the Coast Guard. Do you complain to your congressional representative when your local park isn’t clean? IT professionals provide the background technical support to local public services that benefit everyone.

Of course, doing more with less every year is another hurdle. When Schrier started as CTO he had a budget of $59 million; when he left 8 ½ years later, he had a reduced budget of $49 million, with most of the cuts occurring in the last five years.

Center for Digital Government

Schrier had worked with the Center for Digital Government for several years, attending events with other CIOs and sharing experiences. He hosted Center events in Seattle, such as a “wireless roadshow” about the latest developments in wireless networking, and an editorial roundtable where local officials talked about the technology challenges they faced. Seattle won “Best of the Web” competitive awards three times under his direction and was named as the number two digital city, right behind Honolulu, Hawai’i, by the Center.

The Center for Digital Government is part of eRepublic. It is a national research and advisory institute on information technology policies and best practices in state and local government. Through its diverse and dynamic programs and services, the Center provides public and private sector leaders with decision support, knowledge, and opportunities to help them effectively incorporate new technologies in the 21st century.*

Schrier was interested in the opportunity to work with the Center while still being active in the IT field and connecting with city, county and state CIOs. He has been blogging for several years and enjoys writing about public IT issues. You can find a link to his blog below.


Schrier has a BA in physics and math and taught high school before earning his MPA mid-career from the University of Washington. He was already working in IT at the city of Seattle at that point and later served as CTO for 8 ½ years. After almost 30 years of public service to the city, Schrier retired in late June of 2012.

Interesting links

Bill Schrier’s blog –

Center for Digital Government –

City of Seattle Department of Information Technology –

*Information from the Center for Digital Government’s web site.

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Colorado Counties: Success and Challenges to New Media Use –

Read the full post with comments here. Originally posted 6/21/12 at 1:30 pm

In April I wrote briefly about Commissioner Audrey Danner from Moffat County, Colorado and her efforts in using social media to connect with her constituents.

I had a chance to sit down with Commissioner Danner earlier this month at the Colorado Counties, Inc. summer conference and talk a bit more about Moffat County using Facebook and some of the challenges surrounding social media in general. Moffat County is in rural northwest Colorado. The county is almost the size of the state of Connecticut, yet has a population of only about 13,000. (Connecticut’s population….3.5 million.)

For the most part, Danner is alone in her use of Facebook at the county level. The two other county commissioners do not currently use social media tools to communicate, preferring to stick with more traditional methods for now. Though electronic communications do work for large segment of population, the commissioners feel that the kind of interactions that come from face-to-face communications still can’t be replicated online. County residents are encouraged to interact with the commissioners and have an opportunity to publicly address issues at the beginning of each commission meeting. The commissioners make other public appearances known so that residents can chat with them.

For Danner, her Facebook experience started as just a personal page a few years ago before her last campaign. She allowed citizens to be her friends online, and they got to know a bit about her. She said it made her “real” to her constituents, not just another elected official. She regularly shares county events and happenings, as well as what she does as a county commissioner, including budget meetings, economic development presentations, discussions on bringing broadband to Moffat County, etc. She sees it as an easy way for people to talk to her, make her easily accessible, encourage back and forth discussion in a more friendly manner than a formal commission meeting. The discussions on the page page are still professional, however, and if necessary she recommends discussion at county meetings or an e-mail message to discuss issues that might be better handled offline.

She is currently running for a second term as county commissioner and is considering a separate page for her upcoming reelection campaign to make the online separation between her current position and her campaign.

In the county offices, most Internet activity, especially social media, is prohibited by county staff while at work, mostly because of bandwidth issues. The biggest issue facing the county in this case, and many others like it, is rural broadband access. We talked at length about access issues gong back to the mid 1990s.

In my next piece, I will discuss rural broadband access, specifically in Colorado.

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Rural Governments and Social Media: The Moffat County, Colorado Experience –

Read the full post on Originally posted 4/11/12 at 4:04 pm.

Rural local governments across the country have historically had something of a tougher time than their more populated counterparts when it comes to connecting with their citizens. Greater distances, lower incomes, slower Internet access and hesitancy about adaption of certain communications technologies have proven to be the main challenges. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in the western United States, where there is an abundance of land and far fewer people per square mile.  (A bit about the “digital divide.”)

It is precisely for these reasons that rural governments should consider jumping on the opportunity to using social media tools – in cooperation with existing outreach and communications – to connect with their citizens. A great example is Moffat County, Colorado.  Situated in the northwest corner of the state, Moffat is the second largest county in Colorado (4,756 square miles) but has a relatively small population of only 13,818 people. Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner has seen firsthand the effectiveness of social media tools. Commissioner Danner spearheaded the county’s new website and has her own Facebook page. “I’ve embraced these tools, and they have really proven effective at getting the message out to my constituents. More importantly, they’ve provided a forum for the citizens to share information with me – which helps me do my job better.”

I’ll be detailing Moffat County’s experiences in future posts. Stay tuned.

Have you seen rural governments embracing new communications? How do you think they’re doing?

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DIY government holiday –

Read the post on GovLoop here. Originally posted 3/20/12 at 11:16 am

We’ve all pretty much accepted that St. Patrick’s day is a new American holiday, regardless of the amount of Irish whiskey blood pumping through your veins. Around the country, we observe this day by drinking beer and wearing sparkly green pants and shamrock sunglasses.

What do we do to observe non-religious holidays? President’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, for example…we wear the red, white and blue, buy home appliances and cars on sale, and get a day off from work. How much emphasis is placed on the actual historical reasoning for these days? At this point, not a whole lot. Probably about as much as for St. Patrick’s day.

How would you create a local government holiday? Not a county fair or local observance of a larger national holiday, but a real local government day? Who or what would you celebrate or observe? How would you do it? How could you involve all segments of the community?

What kind of engagement could you generate with a DIY government holiday?

(PS – Perhaps an entire month long celebration of county government? Hm?)

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