But there may be a LGIT way for them to get found again

Montanans shouldn’t have to spend as much time tracking down our representatives as we do tracking down an elk. But if you are trying to find your county or city commissioner, it begins to feel just as hard, and a lot less rewarding.

In many city and counties around the state, if you simply want to stay up to date on what’s happening at the meetings, there are few resources. Gallatin County, for instance, has a Facebook page, but it posts little about the County Commission meetings. None of the commissioners themselves maintain a professional page.

Privacy is important to Montanans, but so is transparency in Government. We don’t need to be Facebook friends with every one of our representatives, but we don’t want our politicians hiding behind early-morning votes and low amounts of communication. Their decisions affect our everyday lives, and we deserve to be able to know what they’re doing.

Gallatin County Screen Shot

A screen shot of Gallatin County’s website

Gallatin County’s website is not something we can easily follow along on, either. When arriving, the print is so small, and its unresponsive design makes it almost impossible to find what you’re looking for, or figure out when a meeting is. And trust us when we say it’s not the only one like this in the state!

In contrast, Missoula County and the city of Missoula recently updated their webpages with the aim of making them easier, and frankly better, for their citizens. Bozeman followed suit and updated its as well.

Bozeman’s city government is one of the most transparent in the state. If you’re wanting to simply follow along on what the City Commissioners are doing, their Facebook page consistently posts the agenda for the Commission meetings four days beforehand. They also are constantly updating people on road construction, which in Bozeman during the summer could be a day saver!

Bozeman City's website

A screen shot of Bozeman City’s website

If one of the agendas sparks your interest, working people can actually make it. Bozeman’s Commissioners meet at 5:30 or 6 p.m., allowing those with nine-to-fivers the opportunity to participate.

But students, nurses, parents, and all the teachers we know who spend another four hours working once class ends may not even be able to make these! These people’s voices are vital in government, too. Well, even if you can’t make it to the meeting, leaving a public comment is only one click away from their homepage. This service is so important for those who don’t have the spare time they deserve.

The personnel behind the curtain for the city of Bozeman are making our lives easier. You can pay a citation, or parking ticket, find a job, or request a garbage pickup — all online.

This is the idyllic version of government that many of us picture; transparent and helpful. Regardless of your feelings on Bozeman’s City Commissioners, the women and men working behind the curtains for the City are true public servants.

However, Bozeman didn’t reinvent the wheel. Scott McMahan, Bozeman’s IT director, instead worked with Missoula’s IT employees to get a copy of the RFP they produced during the website rebuild. He discovered they had redone their site through a group he belongs to called Local Government Information Technology — LGIT.

LGIT is made up of city and county IT employees in Montana who communicate often and meet quarterly. Through LGIT, local governments can work together and source contracts and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) rather than having to spend the time and resources to write their own every time.

LGIT is an extremely important resource for smaller communities. Often, the time required to rework a website, or even begin the process, is the bar to entry. But LGIT can offer the step up that Montana communities need to begin the process of making their local government more transparent online.

If you work in your local government, pass on LGIT’s website to your IT department! You can find it here. And if you’re a citizen fed up with trying to keep track of your politicians online, email them this website — but also thank your local IT director for having one of the harder jobs in local government.

-Andie Creel

Updated on August 31st at 2:55 clarifying how Bozeman and Missoula worked together during their website rebuilds. 

Feature Photo by Mackenzie Lisac