Social networks improve connections Richfield officials say residents appreciate quick answers
By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT Daily News
When a citizen has a question for their local government, they want a quick answer. In the past, many times those citizens would have to wait for a phone call to be returned or be frustrated by electronic answering machines that don't allow them to talk to a "real person." With today's technology and social networks, governments can respond faster to constituents' queries.
Richfield officials believe their use of Facebook, other social networks and the village's website enables them to communicate faster and more effectively with the public.
"I believe we've been setting the bar for sometime with our website innovation, social media integration and written external ommunications to our residents," Interim Village Administrator Jim Healy said. That includes the use of a "zero cost" electronic newsletter and the village Web page."
Healy said the number of people who have "liked" the village's website and who are "friends" on the village's Facebook page have been increasing.
"We are kind of unique because we make a concerted effort to try to update our web and Facebook pages several times throughout the day," Healy said. "When people post a question or seek an answer from us we try to respond back within a very short period."
Healy and Village Administrative Intern KateLynn Schmitt do most of the work updating and answering questions sent over the Internet. "And we don't stop responding many times after the office closes," Schmitt said. "There are times when we will answer questions during the evenings."
The village also uses Facebook and the Richfield webs ite to provide updates to the public about highway construction projects and their impact on traveling through the village.
"The public always seems very appreciative when we post updates and answer their questions quickly," Schmitt said.
Healy said in 2012 he applied for - and the village won — a nationwide contest to have the village website upgraded, which provided a savings of about $50,000.
Starting in 2013, the village began allowing contractors to pay online for electrical permits, plumbing permits and HVAC permits. Healy said this has saved the village's Building Inspection Department a considerable amount of time and effort in processing the 100 or more applications they receive every year for construction.
ther features include emergency alerts, did postings for contractors and a news flash for up-to-the-minute happenings in the village.
Healy said the most popular website feature is "Request Tracker" which allows residents to ask information on planning and zoning, public works (very popular in the winter and summer time), discuss property maintenance issues, or any other similar administrative concern they might have.
"This has been phenomenal in starting dialogues with our residents who might otherwise not contact us as regularly," Healy said. "Residents can also sign up for email alerts via our RSS feeds and we've seen a growing popularity with that as well".
Healy said the village isn't going to stop with the improvements they've recently made.
"In 2014, the village is currently working a 'Top Secret' project with our zoning map to make it essentially a cutting edge infographic for both residents and developers," Healy said.