City Hall, residents linked by Internet Web site offers news to computer users

February 26, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

During the Blizzard of 1996, Vaughn T. Phillips saved himself a trek through the snow-covered streets of Annapolis with just a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks on his computer.

Instead of trudging all the way to work to find out no one was there, Mr. Phillips surfed the Internet and found a notice on the Annapolis Electronic City Hall that told him government offices had closed.

"All I had to do was go on-line," said Mr. Phillips, the city's equal opportunity and minority business enterprise coordinator. "Didn't have to call anyone or go outside. Oh, we're on the cutting edge of technology."

In the past year, Annapolis has joined the growing ranks of cities and states across the country that provide government information on electronic networks, including home pages on the World Wide Web. In Maryland, Baltimore City and almost every county offers a Web site on the Internet.

"It is simply an extension of the way people communicate with the city," said Thomas W. Roskelly, Annapolis spokesman. "You can communicate with City Hall 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

In addition, the city council has allocated $16,000 in the capital budget to buy laptop computers for the mayor and aldermen and link them with the Internet. City residents will be able to communicate with their representatives through electronic mail. The city's Web site is used about 30 to 50 times per week, Mr. Roskelly said. And not all of the users are city employees.

Those planning a visit to Annapolis can tour the city electronically, which officials hope will entice them to take the real thing later, Mr. Roskelly said.

"Welcome to Annapolis!" Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins writes in a letter on the Web site. "We have been welcoming visitors to our City for over three hundred years and we're glad to count the Internauts of the world among them!"

Visitors are asked to enjoy the "ambience of Annapolis and its people," and tour the downtown area, which is "a registered Historic Landmark" commonly referred to as "a museum without walls," Mr. Hopkins writes.

He's also quick to add that "you'll find a personal walking tour to be one of the best ways to discover the charm of our City."

People interested in the mayor can switch to a page offering short biographies on the 70-year-old third-generation Annapolitan and the eight city council members.

The Web site also provides a regularly updated list of city events, ranging from the annual fruit sale sponsored by the local Lions Club to Sine Die, the celebration of the end of the General Assembly's 90-day session.

For those with plenty of time on their hands and an urge to read the complete text of the U.S. Constitution, it's available by computer. If you would rather bone up on local politics, click on the page about pending council legislation and read 0196, the proposal to create a revenue authority for the city.

Want more information on the Naval Academy or St. John's College? Thinking of going to the next boat show? What's the weather like for the next five days?

Bus routes, public meetings, city maps, quick facts -- you name it, it's probably there.

Almost gone are the days of waiting in line to get a city parking or parade permit. With the electronic city hall, you can download the form into your computer, print it, fill out the application and mail or send it back to the city by fax. In the future, the form could be filled out and filed electronically.

Many things you might want to do or know about the city is at your fingertips.

"At 10:23 on a Saturday evening, a person e-mailed me a note about a streetlight that was out on their street," Mr. Roskelly said. "I couldn't reach them by phone, so we carried on a correspondence on the computer. Now, I tell everyone that we fixed that street lamp through e-mail. That's progress."

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