Internet keeps city transparent

ALPENA – The Alpena Municipal Council and city staff utilize the Internet as a means to be transparent, but they also use to help conduct business and provide information to residents and visitors.

The city has been posting YouTube videos of council meetings for more than a year. The city hoped it would be a way for people who can’t attend the Monday night meets to catch up on city news and business. Currently there are only a few subscribers to the city’s channel, but Assistant Engineer Steve Shultz said he is trying to draw more viewers to the videos by changing how they are labeled.

“Right now we only have three or four followers for the channel and we average about 15 views per meeting. Obviously we would like to see a lot more and for the number to go up significantly,” Shultz said. “We are going to continue to post the videos and I would like to see more people benefit from them. I have already started to change the names of the meetings, so they are more easily searchable and easier for people to find.”

Shultz said he checks on the number of subscribers and views on YouTube every few months because people don’t typically watch the meetings in the days immediately following them. Shultz said sometimes it can be as long as two weeks before they actually take time to watch them. He said people who want easy access to the videos without doing a search can go to the city’s website, www.alpena.mi.us, and click on the link provided which will redirect a user to the videos.

The city also has been utilizing eBay as a way to get rid of decommissioned equipment or vehicles. City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the use of the auction website has been beneficial to the city and in most cases brought in more money than other methods the city has used in the past.

“We have been using it for a few years and we have been very successful in the sales that we have had on eBay. Typically we have been getting more money than what we would get from just advertising locally,” Sullenger said. “We have listed retired plow trucks, police cruisers and almost every vehicle we have needed to sell for the last six or seven years. Unless we trade them in we are selling them on eBay and we have been very happy with the prices we have gotten.”

Sullenger said because most of the items the city posts on eBay are too large to have shipped to the winning bidder, it allows only local pickup for the items being sold. He said as much information as possible about the item is listed in the “description” page of the auction and any questions asked by potential buyers are answered. Sullenger said the items also are available for people to come and look at and some bidders have come to Alpena from as far away as the west coast to look at and purchase an item.

“We sold one of our old plow trucks to someone from the other side of the country and it was entirely up to them to come and pick it up or cover the cost to have it delivered to their site,” Sullenger said. “Typically we will have the items up for inspection at our public works garage, where we will park them and people can come and look at them if they are interested. We try to keep everything as transparent as we can about the item and its condition. We post pictures and just give the best representation of the item as we can.”

The Alpena app also is available for smartphones and tablets users. Shultz said he doesn’t have any data in terms of how many apps have been downloaded, or how much they are being utilized by users, but plans to make changes to it could be coming. He said the city wants its app to provide a gateway to the users and the city, so people can report problems or comment on city issues.

“I plan on having an internal meeting, because we have a few things we would like to see changed on it,” Shultz said. “I think we may forgo the restaurant, shopping and business aspect of it, because the chamber has that handled with its app. I think we’ll go more down the informative road and be able to have the public report things to us.”

The city still does not have a Facebook page for people to follow or like in order to get news about the city. Shultz said updating and monitoring a Facebook account would be just too much work to do at this time, but didn’t rule out having one made in the future.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com