Legislators Target Local Government Websites, Including Ohio County

WHEELING — It’s not unusual for West Virginia local government websites to contain outdated information — or lack important items such as meeting schedules and minutes, said Delegate Gary Howell.

To ensure more timely information online, Howell, R-Mineral, sponsored House Bill 2444 that, if it passes the Legislature, would require counties and larger cities to maintain a website with the following information: the title and name of each elected county office-holder, the office telephone number, fax number, office location, mailing address and more.

“We found that when staff started calling to verify the information, a fair amount of (the state’s 55 counties’) websites had incorrect information,” Howell said.

Ohio County’s state-provided website lists several elected officials who are no longer in office, including two who are now deceased. Only two of the five board of education members listed on the website are still members of the board.

Under HB 2444, counties would be required to provide timely information on their officers, as well as the commission’s website address, to the secretary of state beginning Dec. 31.

The bill and its companion Senate bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, represent an effort to “get the right information out there for the people,” Howell said. The bills were introduced early this week, and remain in committee.

Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said having more information online sounds like a good idea, and would help government be transparent to constituents.

“It would probably be very informative to the public,” he said. “Transparency and making it easier for the citizens to find out what’s going on — we’re all for it.”

Commissioners have considered contracting with a company to create a website, according to Wharton.

“It shouldn’t cost that much,” he said.

The state already offers web space to each county, Howell said, including for Ohio County — ohiocounty.wv.gov — so the bill does not have a cost associated with it. However, if the bill passes the Legislature, it would be the decision of each county which website it maintains and update, whether its the state’s or a separate one, he added.

HB 2444 also requires the same information on Class I and Class II municipalities’ websites. Class I municipalities are those with more than 50,000 residents, while Class II municipalities have 10,000 to 50,000 residents, according to state code.

Howell said most municipalities have websites already.

Wheeling Councilman Ty Thorngate said Wheeling’s website, wheelingwv.gov, already includes much of information the bill requires.

“I’m confident that the city is well-equipped to deal with any changes that are proposed in the bill,” he said.

And, he added, what the city offers might just exceed that information. For example, the city is planning a partnership to post video of council meetings. Council hasn’t decided whether to include them on the city’s current website, or on its new website set to launch later this year.

“It’s a transparency thing, and (Mayor Glenn Elliott) and city council take transparency very seriously,” Thorngate said. “We’re trying to be open and honest with every decision we make.”

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