INTERNET • BY KIRSTY GROFF
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner appointed Councilmember Hans Riemer Lead for Digital Government February 6, a move intended to promote transparency of county government through online communication and information accessibility.
Berliner stated in a press release that Riemer was his choice for the position based on his prior commitment to improved communication between residents and officials, and that using the Internet as a method of keeping residents connected and informed is critical.
“I think Councilmember Riemer has been at the forefront of conversations about having an open, transparent government,” Berliner said. “He and I had a conversation earlier on where I urged him to get involved because I thought it was a perfect issue for him, and he has taken it and run with open government.”
Riemer, who lives in Silver Spring, became one of four at-large councilmembers in 2010. He currently serves on the county’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee. His new role as Lead for Digital Government will have a part in the continuing success of Montgomery County’s digital government initiatives.
“What I want is the county government to improve its approach to customer service, to serving residents,” said Riemer, “make a focused effort on providing information to residents that a way that is understandable and accessible to them. We’re not saying people are opposed to that or don’t do that – it’s with the Internet that we can do better.”
Some initiatives Riemer wants to take on as lead are making the budget easier to access and understand – “You’d have to be a budget analyst to understand the information,” he said – as well as taking the county’s 311 call center system and bringing it to an online setting. He also plans to update the county council’s websites and make the data the council uses to make decisions available to residents.
In the 2011 Digital Counties Survey conducted by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties, Montgomery County ranked third nationally in jurisdictions with a population of 500,000 residents or more. The county came in first place in 2010.
Digital government – also known as electronic government, online government or connected government – is the online interactions between governments and citizens as well as between agencies, businesses and employees. This allows for transparency so citizens, business owners and employees can easily see what the local government is up to and can get in touch with their representatives.
Berliner hopes to bring in new technology like apps and online data streams similar to initiatives in place in Chicago with the creation of this position. “There is a whole new economy that is focused on these sets of issues, and part of my desire with respect to this effort is to help Montgomery County move into this new economy,” he said.
Added Riemer, “It’s creating users as well as businesses out of the resources government has in publishing data.”
Maryland has been addressing the need for open communication between government and resident in recent months, specifically with the creation of the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government. Authorized in June 2011, the 12-member committee makes recommendations to the government about how to make citizen access easier.
The concept of a digital government is still fairly new, so working with technology to create more open communication is an ongoing process – one Berliner thinks Riemer is more than capable of overseeing. “It’s a younger space,” he said, “and it means we need to attract young people – and he’s perfect because he’s young and he cares about these sets of issues.”
“I want to give people more ways to be involved in the process and to have a voice in government deliberations,” Riemer added, “and that is by getting better access to the information that we use to make decisions and then providing more opportunities for people to participate.”