Tuesday May 14, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The town is set to launch a new website Wednesday, which, combined with Facebook and Twitter, is expected to provide residents with up-to-date information about town government and the community.

Information access

Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington said the new site, created by Spectrum Designs, is part of an effort to help residents access information they need. Social media sites are also helping deliver real time news and information, he said.

"We just wanted to make sure Bennington had a digital presence," Harrington said.

The town is required to publicly post meetings of its boards and commissions. But people are consuming news and information in new ways, Harrington said.

The town used to post a legal notice in the newspaper or post a notice on the bulletin board at the town office to alert the public about meetings of town boards and commissions.

"That's a very passive approach to trying to get information out there," Harrington said. "We should be hitting them on multiple levels."

Now, all meeting notices and agendas will also be posted to the town's website. That information will also be posted on social media, allowing the public several ways to access information.

"I would say a big portion of our audience is online, whether it's Facebook or email or Twitter," Harrington said.


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The results so far have shown that more residents are engaged with the town, and more are aware of what town government is doing, according to Harrington. "People are seeing real time stuff that's occurring," he said. "More people are either sharing comments or sharing the things we're putting on Facebook, or retweeting information."

Residents will be able to find information about each department within town government, as well as their priorities. Harrington said documents, including permit applications will be available for download online, but a hard copy must still be returned to the town office for now.

The town is also using an online Google calendar to list meetings and community events. The calendar will be synced to other local groups, including the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bennington Free Library, to include other local events.

"We have probably six organizations that we're tapped into right now. When we go live there will be six different calendars synced with ours," Harrington said.

Harrington said he expects it will take some time for residents to begin using the website as a source of information.

"We have to recognize that it's not going to happen overnight. We have to be willing to say this is going to take 18 months or 24 months for people to realize they can get information on the Internet," he said.

For now, the town's focus on its website and on social medial will be to keep local residents as well as other parts of Vermont informed about Bennington.

Harrington said the town has not been proactive in the past about keeping other parts of the state informed about events in Bennington, leading many residents to believe the town is forgotten in Montpelier.

"It's no wonder because we don't necessarily share what's going on. We share it locally, but we don't necessarily share (with the rest of the state)," Harrington said.

However, the website and social media is already helping the town spread its message.

"At this point, do I care whether somebody in Nebraska knows about Bennington? No, we have so much more groundwork we have to do here. But, I do want to make sure that somebody in St. Johnsbury or somebody in Essex, Vt., hears our name on a regular basis," he said.

The town will use analytical data collected from visitors of the new website to adjust it based on what they are interested in.

The town's new website can be accessed at: www.benningtonvt.org, or www.townofbennington.org. Follow Town of Bennington on Facebook, or @TownofBenn on Twitter.