PART 1: Moving More Cities Online

Part of our ‘Thinking About Tomorrow Today’ series

Today’s COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the normal course of  everyday life, forcing more people than ever to embrace technology to continue being productive. From working at home, to online education, and even being ‘seen’ by doctors via tele-health, these new ways of working may be opportunities for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Perhaps, this is a silver lining to today’s uncertain world.

Over the next few days, I will encourage people to see how others are coping today and suggest that certain practices could enhance future production and connectivity.

Long before the COVID-19 virus, we in Anaheim created new electronic service delivery applications to increase our customer service. As the mayor of Anaheim, I initiated an app called – “Anaheim Anytime.” This app allowed residents to seek government services or interact with their government 24/7/365. Through this app, people could apply for city permits, such as business licenses or reservations for park space; they report graffiti or criminal activity in their neighborhood; and they could ask questions regarding city services, from finding out the street sweeper schedule to inquiries about their water bill. And many, many more examples.

Today, some governments have moved many interactions with the public online, but not all governments are open to this. In fact, nearly every public agency has limitations or ‘sacred cow’ services that have not moved online. For example, technology at one time limited building plans and development plans from being submitted electronically online. Today, these options are available, but few governments have implemented them.

Further, some governments, and dare I say many, require certain payments, particularly developer fees, to be paid in person and with a check. For example, at the end of 2019, one Anaheim developer had to pay school district fees for a proposed development. They needed their permit by the end of the year, but in order to get it, they needed a check to be hand-delivered to the school district office before December 31, even though the school office was closed between the holidays.

These unprecedented times should encourage public sector leaders and local policymakers to re-examine the city services they currently provide the public online, and honestly ask what more they could be doing.

Moving more services online today in response to the current crisis will only strengthen cities’ ability to serve the public more efficiently tomorrow.

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