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Bellmawr Council Candidates Comment on Open & E-Gov’t

On April 9, Councilman David Spector posted on his David Spector for Council Facebook page: “Bellmawr could and should be a leader in E-Government, also called Open Government, like Utah. Increasing transparency and easy access to information and services is key to reducing taxes and allowing our excellent Borough employees to do their jobs efficiently.”

In light of all of the transparency work that South Jersey Observer has been undertaking over the past several months, Councilman Spector was asked to share with Bellmawr residents his strategy for executing his plan.

South Jersey Observer also emailed Councilman Ray Bider and candidate Jamie Casey for their responses on the issue.

Councilman Spector responded on April 8 on the South Jersey Observer Facebook page. Councilman Bider replied on April 9 via email.

Councilman Spector:

The website had an overhaul over the last few years thanks quite a bit to the efforts of then councilman and now Borough Administrator Josh Tregear. One of the many reasons I voted yes for a Borough Administrator and specifically for Tregear in that role was that I felt he was well suited to increase the transparency of our government through initiating e-government solutions. We already have an e-government portal, but it is not well populated at this point. It has not been a priority that all of Mayor and Council have established, and it should be. The fact is, the Borough’s records are not digitally organized and have been managed in a very old fashioned way that does not keep up with the need for speedy and accurate information the public demands in the information age.

Although initial efforts to digitize and increase access to our documents would provide additional work, much of the work can be done in house with just some technological upgrades and would create a significant long term savings for the Borough because regular digital management of records reduces redundancy of employee efforts and allows them to focus on the improvements and standards that would improve us globally. Digitizing our data also will allow Borough employees to access records easily and be more efficient. We can archive our collective data for the future in a way that preserves information assets, and we can give the residents the access to information and the services they are craving. That’s the first step.

After that, we need to look at a long term plan for increasing availability of simple services on the web like the digital submission of OPRA requests and other routine citizen interactions with government. The Borough Administrator is working already on trying to move us in this direction, and in fact was working on some of these initiatives (at least the digitizing,) with Councilman Sandrock while he was still on council, but we need to increase our efforts as an entire governing body to support this and to direct the effort in a cost effective and speedy way.

It isn’t all bleak: we are in the process of codifying our code so that will be made available for residents on the website, and we are making strides on increasing our interactions via social media. We can do so much more, if we focus on innovation. I had shared the article because it really helps us to see what strides government can take when it works together to innovate. They were well ahead of the curve. We are not, but it isn’t too late to catch up with strong leadership that is unified on the idea of a citizen centered government.

Councilman Ray Bider:

I would like to concur that I am also a proponent of E-Government due to the fact that anything that can be done to improve the communication of Bellmawr Government with the businesses, employees and residents is a win-win situation.

Ultimately, e-government aims to enhance access to and delivery of government services to benefit the citizens of Bellmawr. More important, it aims to strengthen Bellmawr’s drive toward effective governance and increased transparency to better manage our social and economic resources for development.

E-government results in the efficient and swift delivery of services and goods to our residents of Bellmawr and the businesses in the community. Collaboration and communication are essential to ensure timely decision making. The interaction of all parties and government when done correctly will offer Bellmawr a more convenient, friendly, transparent and effective image.

Services will include, but are not limited to, renewing licenses, providing applications, registering, and obtaining permits, payment of taxes, submit bids, other pertinent Bellmawr information, etc.

The internet, of course, is the most powerful means for delivering a true E-government. However, it is not the only means. It is realized that everyone does not have access to technology, therefore we must include ideas such as intermediaries to transfer information, provide access and training to our library internet for residents, making hard copies available, etc.

Change and acceptance will and cannot occur overnight since this process is new to many people and change is not easy. Dedication, patience, and cooperation will enhance methods of cutting costs, managing performance, creating empowerment, increased talking to citizens and businesses, listening to each other, providing public service, enhancing the business partnerships, and developing Bellmawr’s social and economic capacities. Above all, the importance of business partnerships should not be overlooked. Furthermore, an OKR (objectives and key results) goal-setting approach can provide both parties with clarity, leading to synergy and success.

Together we can make Bellmawr a community of which we are proud.

(Article will be updated to include candidate Jamie Casey’s response when it is received.)