Increasingly, communication between constituents and their local governments depends on electronic and digital systems. E-mail, web sites, Twitter and Facebook have supplanted the “old-fashioned” methods of letter writing and telephone calls. Digital government is on duty 24 hours a day to serve residents and businesses alike. Nowhere is that more true than in Virginia, especially in Fairfax County, which placed first nationally among counties with populations of 500,000 or more.
Each year, the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties partner to conduct an annual Digital Counties Survey. The survey evaluates localities on their ability to improve services and boost efficiencies through strategic use of technology. To ensure that smaller counties are not competing against very large counties, the survey looks at four categories of population, and Virginia counties won awards in all four categories. The Digital Counties Survey awards were presented at NACo’s annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday. In the smallest population category, up to 150,000 residents, Virginia counties took five of the 10 places: Franklin (10th place), Albemarle (7th), Gloucester (6th), Roanoke (4th), and Montgomery (3rd). Arlington County tied for second place in the 150,000 – 249,999 population category. Moving up in population, 250,000 to 499,999, neighboring Loudoun County placed fourth, and Chesterfield County near Richmond placed first.
For the second time in four years, Fairfax County placed first in the over 500,000 population category. In fact, Fairfax has ranked in the top five category for five consecutive years, including first place in 2012. Last year, when Montgomery County, Maryland, won first place, I told Chief Technology Officer Wanda Gibson that we couldn’t let that happen again! And, indeed, our sister county across the river placed second this year. There was only a little trash talking among county officials at the ceremony, but it was all in good fun and respect for the work that counties do on behalf of their residents every day.
Among the achievements cited by the Center for Digital Government was Fairfax County’s publicly available IT Strategic Plan, which the judges called “one of the nation’s best.” The judges also noted financial transparency and citizen engagement through the Economic Success portal, and the county’s open data analytics approach, which includes access to studies, reports, and data for public use. The county also received kudos for leading and coordinating emergency response across the National Capital Region through interoperable communications initiatives. That last item is an outgrowth of more than a decade of cooperative and collaborative effort by local jurisdictions, following the September 11 attack on the Pentagon more than a decade ago. That terrible day revealed “holes” in our resilience that local governments have been mending, and rebuilding, ever since.
You can find the programs and information lauded by the Digital Counties Survey by logging on to the Fairfax County Web site, www.fairfaxcounty.gov. It’s pretty impressive!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.