Hancock County to upgrade website

NEW CUMBERLAND – A new website is in the works for Hancock County.

“Our website’s old,” Commissioner Dan Greathouse said. “I don’t think it’s as user-friendly as we can make it.”

Commissioners recently approved a “complete renovation” of the county’s website – HancockCountyWV.org – to the tune of $8,250. Black Bloom Photo & Design, of New Cumberland, was awarded the contract.

Upgrades to the site will include new content and new artwork, transfer of existing written content, creation of a media section for audio and video format, a new county commissioner calendar and a new page for the sheriff’s department, said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

“The cost includes a complete makeover of the entire website, with upgrading to current web standards,” Zielinsky said.

Greathouse said the new features will make the website easier for the public to use.

“We hope to have it up and running in 90 days,” he said.

The decision by commissioners to overhaul the county’s website comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of government websites at the city, county and state levels.

Last year, the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Va., released its review of West Virginia’s official state, county, large city and school district websites – a review in which most sites fared poorly.

The organization reviewed websites for transparency and the inclusion of, among other things, budgets, contact information for officials, audits, contracts and public records. State agencies overall got a transparency grade of A-, while counties got an overall grade of D.

The five largest counties in West Virginia were reviewed in 2012, while the remaining, including Hancock County, were reviewed in 2009. Hancock County’s website dates back to 2004, according to the Internet archive Wayback Machine.

The Sunshine Review gave Hancock County’s Web site a grade of F because eight out of 10 “transparency features” are either missing or incomplete – budgets, meetings, elected officials, permits/zoning, audits, contracts, lobbying information and public records.

The Sunshine Review credited the website for including local tax information, contact information for administrative personnel, the names of county commissioners and meeting dates. However, meeting minutes are not provided, nor is contact information for individual commissioners, the review said.

The review also faulted the Hancock County site for not posting an annual budget or information on obtaining public records.

Also receiving a failing grade from the Sunshine Review was the Hancock County Schools website, which was reviewed in 2010.

Hancock County Assessor Joseph Alongi has his own website, which allows users to access information about property taxes, levy rates, property records and property sales.

According to the Sunshine Review, counties should disclose more information on their websites so that residents are able to gauge whether a county government is effective, competent, frugal with taxpayer money and in compliance with public records and open meetings laws.

In a related matter, Hancock County commissioners have asked Zielinsky to develop a new social media policy for county employees.

Such a policy is necessary to protect the county and its employees when it comes to using Facebook, Twitter and other social media, Greathouse said.

“We want a policy in place that gives people an idea of what they can say, what’s appropriate and what’s permissible,” he said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)