Manchester, N.H.: Help from the outside

As a growing city with great ambitions, Manchester, N.H., knows it must upgrade its anemic Web site (ci.manchester.nh.us), currently little more than a list of names and contact numbers.

Without the help of a local nonprofit organization, however, that upgrade would still be just something on a wish list.

The Manchester Development Corporation, a group of local business leaders, awarded a $37,000 grant to the city as seed money to begin development of the Web site. That was enough to hire a consultant, who worked with city departments to set up such things as basic navigation aids for Web pages and designed templates that will enable departments to easily upload content to the site.

"Our mayor thinks this new Web site is important, so we have support for it right at the top," said Jane Hills, the city's assistant economic development officer. "But the effort might not have gone very far without us being able to get these funds from the outside."

The Web site is seen as a priority, according to Diane Prew, Manchester's director of information services, "but, like many other areas of government, we are struggling with resources."

Prew has an 18-person staff to serve the whole city, and no one has been devoted full time to developing the Web site, which is a brand-new project for her department. She had put in a request for a Web site administrator, and she hopes that will be approved for the next budget year. Without such a person, she said, efforts to get the new Web site up could flag.

"We feel we need to get the site up, and hope it will be successful and well received," Prew said. "That could then help us to generate the support to get more funding."

Given all of this, no one expects major fireworks from a new Manchester site, which Prew hopes to launch sometime in June. The first go-around will focus on information, with some downloadable forms made available. As far as transactional services are concerned, the first thing "in the not too distant future" will be to initiate online job applications, Prew said, and at some point to enable people to make payments online.

But no one is expecting miracles.

"The city as a whole does want to be up on the Web," Hills said. "However, there are limits to what we can do. E-government suggests a site that includes a lot of interaction, and that's just not in the cards for Manchester right now."

Next: Who cares about e-government?

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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