Community Conversations – How WordPress Brings Transparency to Local Government

Posted on October 28, 2014

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As a precursor to our webinar with GovFresh, we’ve asked Sam Taylor, City of Ferndale, WA, to write about his city’s experience in using WordPress. 

Background Check

0191643Sam Taylor (LinkedIn and Twitter) is a Certified Municipal Clerk, a former journalist, and current Master in Public Administration Student at Kent State University. He’s worked for the City of Ferndale, Washington since 2011. His passion is in fostering the creation of reasonable, forward-thinking public policy that helps preserve and enhance the quality of life of communities. He is pursuing additional education and working toward becoming a city administrator or manager.

As the Ferndale City Clerk & Community Information Officer, his responsibilities include management of a two-member department (formerly a department of five), policy analysis and creation as well as assisting other departments with their initiatives, the City’s human resources, risk management and insurance claims, public records retention and disclosure, City communications including social media feeds and management and design of the City’s website.

How WordPress Brings Transparency to Local Government


By Sam Taylor, CMC, City Clerk & Community Information Officer

I believe that, as a public official, there is nothing more important to my role at a municipality than ensuring our community members have as easy access as possible to information about their government.

It seems like sometimes we forget we’re doing this to make communities better. Sometimes, it feels like some municipal leaders try to do this in spite of their community members, instead of on behalf of, and with, those community members.

Memes - Office Space - Open GovOne way to help ensure that citizens are well-informed so they can participate in important community decisions (for instance, sharing their thoughts with elected officials), is to ensure they have better access to what their local government is doing.

There is probably no better way to ensure your community has robust access to public information than building a well-maintained website.

Clothing Your Website

But how to do it without spending $20,000? Or even $1,000?

In Ferndale we’ve built a website based on the free, open-source software known as WordPress. We partnered with Luke Fretwell of GovFresh, which works to expand how governments utilize technology to make citizen access all the better. Luke and other programmers created a flexible, fresh website theme specifically for government use. Think of a WordPress as the brains of your website and the theme as the website’s clothing. It’s dressed up in a way to meet the needs of a government that wants to ensure community members have the ability to navigate a well-organized site so they can learn about what their municipality is doing.

download (3)Not only has WordPress allowed us to create a more professional look on behalf of our community, but because it’s open source, developers from around the world have expanded the features we can use to communicate with the public. That is, developers create “plugins” you can easily install on the site to enhance what it can do for you. In Ferndale , for instance, we installed a plugin that optimizes how our City shows up in search engine results.  Type in the word “Ferndale” to Google and you’ll find us at the top, above Ferndale, Mich., Ferndale, Cali., and more.

We’ve also got plugins running in the background that provide for more robust security to help prevent hackers from getting in and mucking things up.

Proof Is In the Analytics

download (4)What has this all done for us? In short, we are reaching literally tens of thousands more people than before.

Take our Google Analytics statistics prior to switching. During the 6 months before flipping the switch, we got visits from 302 desktop computers, 31 mobile devices and 7 tablet devices.

During the first nine months of switching to WordPress we saw 45,964 desktop visits, 3,552 tablet visits and 9,860 visits to our website from mobile devices.

My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw those statistics.

Not only have we created a robust website that is easily manageable for even the most basic computer user (helpful for whoever needs to post information on the site), we’ve greatly expanded access to our community government. There is nothing more important in public administration, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

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