Communication committee brainstorms

The future was on the minds of members of the Bethany Beach Communications Committee when they met Tuesday, Jan. 18. Having made substantial progress on a number of communications-related issues, members of the committee had been asked by Mayor and committee Chairman Jack Walsh to consider what new areas they might need to focus on in coming months.
At the Jan. 18 meeting, Walsh reviewed a long list of suggestions from the town’s Web site consultant, aimed toward maximizing the usefulness of the site.

Members of the committee agreed that expanding the “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) section of the Web site was a good idea. Input will be sought from town employees who routinely answer questions from residents and visitors. The range of town documents available on the Web site will also be reviewed, with an eye toward expanding the selection to provide even more convenience to site visitors.

Organization of the site is also a priority for the committee members, who cited a haphazard growth in recent times that has led to difficulties for some visitors in finding particular areas of information. A full reorganization of the site structure, as well as a site map, was among the ideas discussed to improve the situation.

The idea of a town-operated Web camera, providing live video from the town to the Internet, was dismissed as too expensive. It was noted that existing “Web cams” are linked on the town’s Web site.

Interest in real-time weather information from the town will likely be catered to in the near future, however. Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted that equipment designed to monitor weather had been ordered. The town is also anticipating the installation of equipment that would monitor tides and wave heights. That information would be coordinated through the state’s weather and tidal information Web site, which would be linked to via the town’s site.

The request was also made to investigate other sources for weather information to provide to visitors to the site, such as a link to the American Weather Service station at Lord Baltimore Elementary School in Ocean View.

A previous plan to include additional information about Town Council members resurfaced as part of the discussion Tuesday. Previously dismissed by a former makeup of the council, the idea of putting council members’ photographs on the Web sites received a favorable response from the three council members on the committee.

Walsh, newly selected Secretary/Treasurer Tony McClenny and new Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead all said they were willing to agree to the idea, citing the importance of allowing town residents and property owners to “put a face with the name.”

Under the preliminary plan, the photographs would be included with a brief biography of the council member that would cite their length of service on the council, as well as any committee chairmanships and memberships. Walsh requested Olmstead confirm that each of the current council members was willing to agree to the idea and seek unanimous consent rather than a simple majority.

Town Clerk Lisa Kail noted that she was seeking additional information for the town’s bi-annual newsletter. A previous request to department heads in the town for such information had met with limited success, she said. Committee members agreed to assist Kail in the push for additional cooperation and information suitable for inclusion in the newsletter.

Committee Member Monte Wisbrock questioned whether the town had developed a policy to address listing or promotion of non-town-sponsored events on the town’s Web site or newsletter. Wisbrock cited upcoming fund-raising efforts by the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Department and questioned whether such events could be listed on the town’s event calendar.

During extensive discussion of the issue, Walsh said early guidelines for the Web site had pushed a focus on information relating exclusively to the government of the town and town-sponsored events. Business information (outside the town’s planned business map for the Web site) was deemed to be a potential conflict, he said.

However, the idea of providing information for events from non-profit entities proved to be a gray area for the committee. Of particular concern was the potential to set a precedent where the town could later be required to list an event that it did not wish to support.

In the end, committee members agreed that the fire department was a unique case, as it is partially supported through state funds and provides a unique public safety service to the community. Committee members agreed that the department’s fundraising events could be listed on the Web site along with town events, with a link to the department’s own Web site for further information.

McClenny also suggested that general information on the fire department’s fundraising efforts be included in the April 2005 issue of the town newsletter.

Dealing with ongoing projects, the committee members agreed to put forward to the Town Council their plans for a town brochure and informational magnet. Price quotes for a larger amount of brochures — 50,000 — had recently been obtained, and committee members are seeking a council endorsement for the idea prior to proceeding with having them printed.

The committee is also interested in determining what level of interest the local real estate community might have in the brochures. If the level of interest is sufficient, the committee members have proposed the real estate offices contribute toward the printing costs for the larger number of brochures by way of sponsorship or through purchasing a significant number of them — at cost — to provide to rental clients.

The draft brochure includes information such as beach regulations, town hall hours and contact information, and the locations of area churches.

The plan for informational magnets would be largely targeted at property owners in the town, with a much smaller quantity of approximately 10,000 planned for production. The magnets would likely be included in a routine town mailing, such as water bills or the town newsletter.

Draft copies of both items are due to be presented to the full set of council members before any further action is taken on either. With the council’s endorsement, both would be produced under the budget for the next fiscal year (starting in April) and be ready in plenty of time for the summer season.

The next meeting of the Communications Committee was set for Tuesday, Feb. 1, at 10 a.m.