The images below are screenshots of the web pages of two small towns. One belongs to the Town of Ramseur, and the other belongs to the Town of Biscoe. I chose Biscoe for this comparison for several reasons, one being that the towns are similar in size and population. I also chose to look at Biscoe because, over the past few years, Ramseur has paid two Biscoe employees – their town manager and town clerk – to work for us part-time as consultants.
We’re paying for a town manager, part-time at contractor rates!
Clicking either image below will open a new window or tab in your browser so that you can more easily compare the two websites. I recommend that you do this from a desktop or a laptop computer for the easiest viewing.
The first thing that jumped out at me when I visited the Biscoe site was how well organized it is, with all of their policies, ordinances, agendas & minutes, forms, and even their corporate charter available to read or download, easy to find, and mostly up to date.
Seriously, stop for a minute. Go back and click all four of the links I put in that last paragraph. Go on, look!
Biscoe’s meeting agendas and minutes for this year are still a few months behind, but that’s not so unusual; a little lag is to be expected, but records for several previous years appear to be complete and available for any interested party with an internet connection to print, download, or read online.
This is what smart, efficient management looks like for a small town of 1,700 people when their leadership is smart enough to get out of the way of progress. Professional management keeps town employees from having to spend unnecessary time finding, scanning, printing, and delivering the most common public records requests.
Citizens can find information online with ease, and when they can’t, it can often be retrieved and delivered without anyone ever having to leave their desks. Of course, such a well-oiled machine took some planning and diligence to assemble, but once the infrastructure is in place it takes very little time each day to keep it up to date.
Biscoe’s website isn’t perfect, but it’s well-organized and fairly well-maintained, which is more than I can say for ours. Far more.
Ramseur’s official website is embarrassing, and that’s the kindest thing I can say about it.
Here sits the most powerful communications tool the world has ever produced, disorganized and gathering dust while town officials post legal notices on a social media platform notorious for showing us what we need to see three days after we need to see it.
The town website was better organized until Commissioner Parrish convinced his colleagues to replace our internet host and webmaster, David Turner; a business acquaintance I’ve known and respected for more than a decade, and who, in the interest of full disclosure, told me that he was delighted to lose our town’s business when they let him go. Yet another symptom of town manager deficiency syndrome.
Mr. Turner lives west of Charlotte and could be reached by email or telephone almost any time his assistance was needed. Does our new webmaster even have a name? Do they live in this hemisphere? The town website we have today looks like it was designed and is hosted by a fourteen-year-old with a server in his mom’s basement, no offense to fourteen-year-olds.
A webmaster’s job does not typically include managing ALL content updates for the client. I’ve hosted Ramseur Watchdog and my professional website through David’s company for years, and he’s never written a post or uploaded any documents or images for me, nor would I expect him to. Granted, the Town of Ramseur was paying for a little more than I do, but most of their issues were caused by user errors. Our town’s information portal doesn’t work because no one who understands the tools is allowed near the toolbox.
There’s an email subscription box at the bottom of the Town of Ramseur’s homepage, similar to the one at the bottom of this website.
Anyone should be able to sign up for updates from the town and be notified by email whenever anything new is posted, just like subscribers here get an email anytime I post something new. Every legal notice, every meeting agenda, and any other official information citizens ought to see should be posted and sent out that way from the official town website.
A few days ago I subscribed to the town website just to see what might happen. I typed my email address in the box, clicked the sign-up button, and… nothing happened. I didn’t really expect anything to happen; maybe a confirmation message, but no, nothing.
Five hours later I got a message from Mayor Caudle, asking if I had sent her an email. She’d received an odd-looking message that afternoon with my email address on it. She sent me a screenshot, and it took a few seconds to realize what it was. It wasn’t a scam or any kind of malware, and it wasn’t from me, at least not directly.
It was a notice generated by the subscription form I filled out on the town website. It turns out that the mayor has seen several of these over the years, but no one could ever explain to her what they were or what they meant.
The form was never set up properly because no one in that office or with a vote on that board will admit that they don’t know how to use the tools in front of them. Not one meeting announcement – special or otherwise – is visible on Ramseur’s website, and once a visitor clicks past the pop-up announcements they use for hearings and special meetings it’s impossible to see those notices again without resetting your IP address.
How many of you know what an IP address is and how to reset it? Not many, I’d wager, and we shouldn’t have to know how to do those things just to get a second look at important legal notices from our local government. No ‘news’ items have been added to the site since last March.
Meeting agendas have not been added to the town website in more than three years and to my knowledge minutes have never been posted, and the last I heard they don’t even keep minutes anymore, choosing instead to rely on inconsistent videos hosted on YouTube.
I want to try to fix these problems, among others, and I will find a way to do it even if it means I have to spend the next few years doing it myself, here on this website.
Four years ago Commissioner Parrish promised us transparency and better communication, but I do not see either one of those things being more abundant today than four years ago. If anything we’ve gone backward. Heaven forbid anyone should ever find out about town business from anywhere but the carefully cultivated Facebook gossip mill.
I want the opportunity to work at making this town better, and the only way to do that is with you, the taxpaying citizens of this municipality at my back, showing up at meetings and holding your commissioners accountable.
In 2023 our local government is still broken. The way forward is to modernize it. Backward is not the way forward. Please vote on or before November 7th.