Norristown.org went down this weekend, with not even a message saying "We're undergoing maintenance." Yesterday I got the kind of screen you get when someone forgets to pay the website or domain bill (I don't KNOW that that's what happened, but that's the kind of screen I got). Today there are dire warnings that say "Access Denied." Maybe we've been hacked (but I can't think who would want to). So either we haven't paid the bill, or some programmer tried to fix the calendar and screwed up the whole site instead (possibly we got him cheap after he was fired for having programmed Healthcare.gov last fall).
Last week, when I tried to find out the planning agenda because it wasn't on the website, I was told that even if the agenda isn't on the website that "these meetings are advertised in the local paper, posted throughout municipal hall." The message I got from that is: That's what our government is required to do by law, so we taxpayers shouldn't ask for more.
Yet, even in good weather, I can't see all our citizens stopping by Municipal Hall to read meeting notices, especially since most of our citizens are at their own jobs the hours that Municipal Hall is open. I can't even get my car up my alley with all the ice (despite the fact that my alley is marked as a "Fire Lane"), let alone drive down to 235 E Airy ever day to check out the notices. This may explain why most of the people you see at meetings are those who work in Muni.Hall.
The Times Herald never puts meeting notices on their website, and rarely says anything about meeting agendas. I remember a time when practically every house in town got the paper delivered to them every day. That was when the law made sense. Now, if I see a paper on the sidewalk in front of a house on my block, it's usually the Inquirer. I stopped delivery of all newspapers after my parents died because the papers never made it onto my front porch, no matter how often I called. When we had winters like this, I'd fish the copies out from under bushes after the spring thaw. I do still buy the Sunday Times Herald, though Norristown news seems more and more infrequent . This isn't to say no one reads the Times Herald--I personally know dozens of people who do, but like me, they read it mainly online.
No one at Municipal Hall seems to think that making the agendas public ahead of time is important. For me, the agenda determines whether I'm going to cancel everything else and go out on a cold night to get to a meeting. Our Planning staff seems to think only the people within 300 feet of a development proposal should care about the issue. For me, everything that goes on in Norristown is important--the development at 1202 Dekalb, say, can set a precedent for future overcrowded housing, and one of those projects may come to my block someday. The Montgomery Hospital site is so close to me that if that neighborhood goes downhill, mine could very well be next. And we'll all end up paying more in taxes to fix disasters like Logan Square. Even if residents can't get to meetings, the agendas gives them summaries of what's going on in town.
On that topic, it would be wonderful, assuming the website ever comes back up, if the minutes of meetings could once again be posted there.
If Norristown's going to prosper again, communication between residents, government, and existing and potential businesses is vital. We need a good, working website, with abundant, accessible information. Otherwise, it's like having a front door that won't open. Residents will give up knocking and leave town. Businesses will head for the next community down the road.
Council, officials, please, don't do the MINIMUM the law requires you to do in this regard. Do what's best for Norristown.
If I can get hold of an agenda for tonight's meeting, I'll post it later..