Localities in our area are trying to make interaction with city government easier for citizens. Williamsburg this week released an app where citizens can request city services through their smart phone. Trash can is missing? Just request a new one using the app. No more long waits on the phone.
With the capabilities of technology these days, this seems to be a good direction to go. However, cities need to be wary that they do not make getting the same services harder on some non-connected users.
An example of this would be the bills that are submitted every year to the General Assembly to allow localities to not put notices in the local paper about public hearings on items by the local governments. The bills always list other avenues like :
- posting them at the library
- requiring people to call in and ask
- using a locality website
- using some form of social media
- using radio or locality tv channel
Such bills actually affect the elderly the most as a significant number do not use the internet for various reasons. They also have a harder time getting around so driving to the library for the convenience of the locality is not likely to happen. They can sit by the radio or tv all day in hopes through all the other ads they can actually see what they need.
Recently one of the bills suggested the localities could pick a set number of the options it liked best. Of course, most were technology options. The bill failed as do all the bills like this. The reason being that the main group it would hurt are also the group that have time to call and complain to the elected officials. This is also a significant demographic of voters that usually turn out to vote.
This year, though, some of the bills will stand a better chance as the localities claim it is a money issue in hard economic times. The City of Hampton is one locality supporting such a bill for just that reason. True, we all know how the economy is causing tough times. However, that has not stopped Hampton from planning to build a new court house or making large land purchases this year. It is my understanding another land purchase is about to happen.
If money can be spent on the city’s wanted projects, shouldn’t they also be able to pay to inform people of public hearings?
This is compounded even more in Hampton because to save council’s time, Hampton has done away with the second reading on public hearings before items are voted on. So unless you know the hearing is happening, you are not likely to hear about it until the day after it was voted on. Then it is too late and the citizens are stuck with something a lot of them might be against. This is an example of how technology can be used to disengage the citizens.
I hope that Williamsburg’s app is a success but I also hope that they don’t limit access to the people without smart phones that can’t use the app. In the push for convenience for most citizens, the localities must not disenfranchise an entire segment of our population.