In order to help Island Sand Paper readers learn more about Town Council candidates, we have asked them to answer a series of questions in their own words. We present their answers in random order this week. This is our third question:
The ETrackit system was removed from the Town website due to ‘attempted hacking’ long ago. It has not been replaced, limiting the transparency of Town government. Do you think this information (permits, code violations, licenses, etc) should be available online? Comment on the transparency of Town government.
Forrest “Butch” Critser’s response:
Due to unauthorized attempts to gain control of the technology network, Town Trakit records are only available to the public by visiting Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard, Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30. Trakit is no longer available via the Town’s website. (Taken from www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov)
From the research we have done it would appear that the Town of Ft Myers Beach attempted to implement a web-based research program to allow visitors to their web site to retrieve certain information from the convenience of their tiny screens.
We learned that all that information is and has always been available at Town Hall. I am sure many of you remember looking things up in your younger days using the Dewey decimal system. It is a similar process. It may be a little inconvenient if your computer is on your desk in: Say Michigan. Or your tiny screen is in your pocket in New Jersey.
I think the assurance that the Town Hall computer network is safe and not subject to “ransomware” or attack from Bangladesh or wherever is reason enough for the town to take this action.
I myself am glad we have the expertise and watchful eyes on staff or on contract to safeguard our town’s records and computer system.
Robert “Bob” Burandt’s response:
Your question assumes facts and seems to accuse the Town of not being transparent? For the record, I am not confirming that in this response. However, assuming that you are correct I would say that almost everything government does should be transparent, not sure anyone would disagree with that. I am also not sure why they took the ETrackit System down in the first place but if it was for security reasons there are other ways to protect it from hackers. Perhaps this question would be better directed to the Town Manager who is responsible for the day today operations.
However, to be very clear government transparency is important to me as long as it doesn’t interfere with an individual’s right to privacy. This issue should be treaed like Court records, where some information is redacted to protect the privacy of individuals.
David Drumm’s response:
Transparency in town operations is a must but we must also be very careful with our citizens information.
As a contractor in Florida and, more importantly in Lee County, I need to connect directly for permitting. A registration and password is required.
Just as easily any bad actor could access this information, with or without the town, linking to Etrakit.
I believe we should try, within the law, to protect information the town must collect from unnecessary release.
Jim Atterholt’s response:
We need transparency in government so folks who want to find out information are able to do so in an easy and efficient way. I support the concept of when it comes to government—sunshine is the best disinfectant. To answer the question directly, yes, I do think information regarding permits, code violations, licenses, etc., should be made available online. Having this information on line could also save our residents a trip to Town Hall. Just as importantly, our Town must proactively publicize information that can be helpful to our citizens.
For example, I have mentioned before the dramatic increase in fines from code enforcement. Let’s have the Town publicize this data. The Town Manager needs to better communicate with all residents and businesses on where and why these fines are being levied. An education campaign must begin so residents can better understand the specific problems that are occurring and how best to avoid any penalty. A monthly column should be written by the Town Manager addressing the most commonly asked questions to the Town and Council. I have previously discussed how clean water is the most critical issue we face. As the solutions to this problem are long term, the Town must better engage the thousands of tourists and part-time residents who visit each year and urge them to contact their members of Congress back home about the critical need to continue to support the legislative solutions and funding that are just beginning to have a positive impact on Florida. The Town could use its website and “bully pulpit” to help educate these folks on how best to take action. We not only need to be transparent; we need to partner with our residents by providing them the information they need as opposed to being secretive and adversarial.
William “Bill” Veach’s response:
I am not privy to the details of how the ETrakit system was compromised, but it has in fact been replaced with IWorQ systems. I understand that the information that was compromised in the ETrakit system has not been manually ported over to the new IWorQ system, but that information is available from staff. This sounds like a simple man power choice, paying staff to manually gather and re-enter all of the compromised information vs paying staff to answer questions regarding active permits until they are completed. All this is stated, quite transparently, on the Towns website. I have a permit that was in ETrakit and is not currently in the new IWorQ system. It is inconvenient, but I do not see obvious signs of a conspiracy against transparency that the question claims.
Dan Allers’ response:
Cornerstones of good government are transparency and access to information and services. Hand held tablets, smartphones, Google and Amazon have all reset our expectation for convenience, self-service and transparency. We fail our citizens and visitors when we do not have a well-designed, easily navigated and dependable web presence. With today’s technology it should be easier, not harder, to obtain permits and licenses, or research Town ordinances and services. Visitors should be able to explore the availability of currently under-utilized resources like Bay Oaks and Matanzas Preserve. Self-service should provide prompt and cost effective ways to administer our Town services. An effective web presence facilitates direct communications between Town staff, elected officials and the community.
So should systems like Etrackit be available online? Absolutely, as should all Town services. The Town’s website needs a complete, professional redesign; make it easier to navigate, add all Town services and information resources to insure a technical configuration that provides a secure, dependable and scalable platform for our future growth. I ask you, what is a better investment, a website that allows residents self-service and access to information, or continuing to hire Town personnel to perform routine tasks or answer phone calls for information? Technology is here to make processing and implementation easier, faster and more efficient while adding transparency for everyone. Let’s make communications a priority and the Town website the first place residents and visitors go to obtain information and guidance.
No response was received from Bruce Butcher by deadline. The Island Sand Paper’s Campaign Policy provides all candidates a variety of opportunities to share their views with our readers, including Ask the Candidate space. Writers are solely responsible for the content of their submissions.