Director of Information Technology, Division of Local Services
Time flies. About five years ago, I introduced the Division of Local Services' (DLS) plans for a Local Officials Directory to various associations, including a meeting of the Town Clerks Association. At that time, Local Services had the same system for communicating with different local officials that we had used for the last twenty years: request some labels addressed to "Clerk" or "Town Administrator" with city and town hall addresses, peel and stick the labels onto stuffed envelopes, and carry to the mail room. The choice for an alternative approach was stark but simple. Keep on peeling labels or somehow manage thousands of constantly changing position identities and email addresses among all the cities, town, and districts. We made the plunge into individually-addressed email, but we needed the assistance of city and town clerks to keep up with the ever-changing roster of local officials.
Now, just a few years later, the Local Officials Directory (LOD) has not only swelled from 2,500 to over 12,000 reasonably current officials, most of whom have valid email addresses, but the LOD also anchors access to DLS Gateway, the highly successful new standard for how state and local officials process and report financial data. In its first year, FY2009, 88 percent of communities set their tax rates using online forms through Gateway. This year, 97 percent of communities have submitted all tax rate forms using Gateway. Clerks now routinely edit and sign LA5's, Recaps, and other forms online. The LOD determines who performs which functions within each municipal government and who can be assigned a Gateway account to do specific tasks. When key regulatory steps are completed and the state grants approval, automatic programs send emails to relevant local officials when the approval button is clicked. Only two years ago, those officials had to place phone calls or wait for postal mail deliveries to know if their free cash was set or they had preliminary revaluation certification. Now they know within seconds of the actual approval. The email addresses collected within the LOD make all this instant communication possible. As we know, people and email addresses are always changing and no state agency could hope to keep track without local help. Clerks and other local officials have provided that essential help. Today, when someone wants to send a message to all town accountants, for example, and uses the LOD's export feature to set up the mail-merge, out of hundreds of messages only a few will come back as "addressee unknown."
Recording and reporting newly-elected local officials using the LOD also allows clerks to avoid typing "Blue" and "White" forms for the Elections Division. Putting in all the positions and departments the first time can take awhile, but in succeeding elections, the updates are fast and easy. The chief difficulty is that if something is done just once a year, a person inevitably forgets one thing or another. In the case of election updates, clerks typically forget how to enter the new election date in the city/town level record or forget to turn off their popup blocker to see finished reports. These are simple questions to answer when the call come in.
City and town clerks continue to have all-powerful Local Account Administrator permissions in Gateway, so they can update officials in any department. But the relatively easy chore of determining who in their community can do what on Gateway is now shared or assumed by others, e.g. an IT person or a Town Administrator. Clerks can delegate this role easily. A selectman or a new assessor might still approach the Clerk's office for a login and password, and some clerks are comfortable providing that service. More often, they've referred them to the person who has volunteered to perform that role, with our support.
The important thing is that one way or another, the right people keep logging in, keep submitting the forms, and keep making complex regulatory processes easier and more efficient. That is a singular accomplishment in these short five years, and the role of city and town clerks, without formal training or anything more that occasional phone support, deserves applause.