Back in 1994, Paul Thorn was a one-man show, heading the Information Technology department for Annapolis city government. He oversaw the city's small computer network and worked out kinks with file storage and printing.
That same year, the city became an early leader among municipalities and started its own Web site, www.annapolis.com.
The city's commitment to technology, digital services and its Web site, where residents can pay their tax assessments and parking tickets, was recognized recently as a "digital city" by eRepublic's Center for Digital Government and Digital Communities Magazine.
Annapolis placed sixth nationally among cities with populations of 30,000 to 74,999 and was the only city in Maryland recognized. Among small cities, Lynchburg, Va., leads the pack, with Flower Mound Texas in the No. 2 spot, and Jupiter, Fla., No. 3.
"We're using this and other awards as a benchmark," said Thorn, who added that he now oversees a staff of 11, including a full-time Webmaster, and an intern.
"This is the public face of Annapolis. It's another communication tool that needs to be utilized."
This is the eighth year that the Center for Digital Government has created the Digital Cities Survey, which rates the technological savvy of cities across the country. The center is a national research and advisory institute providing government, education and industry leaders on technology.
"The award is an indication that Annapolis' priorities continue to be its citizens and the fact we offer newer technologies that allow them to voice their opinions and concerns," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said in a statement.
The Web site, which has more than 25,000 pages of information, is also a place where residents can report a pothole or a burnt-out streetlight. Other popular features, according to Thorn, are the daily police report, which lists recent crime reports and a new blog, "Lets Talk Annapolis," written by Moyer.
And more changes are on the horizon, according to Thorn. The city is in the first phase of a five-phase redesign of its Web site that will "improve the navigational ability, to find what you want," according to Thorn. The project is scheduled to be completed in three to six months. The city is modeling its Web site on that of Reno, Nevada, which Thorn called "more aesthetic and more pleasing."
The city has also begun digitizing its permit process, making it take just a few hours, as opposed to a several-days-long exercise.
According to the Web site for Digital Communities Magazine, Cathilea Robinett, executive vice president of the Center for Digital Government, said, "This year's winners reflect that even with budgetary challenges, cities are placing a high value on citizen engagement and improved services. Cities are incorporating newer technologies, such as Webcasting, podcasts and blogs while continuing to use IT to enhance delivery options for citizens and businesses."
A third of the award rating is based on the city's Web site, and the other two thirds are based on how the city government applies technology to its everyday practices.
TOP 10 DIGITAL CITIES
30,000 - 74,999 population category
1. Lynchburg, Va.
2. Flower Mound, Texas
3. Jupiter, Fla.
4. Blacksburg, Va.
5. Charlottesville, Va.
7. Medford, Ore.
8. Delray Beach, Fla.
9. Manchester, Conn.
10. Boynton Beach, Fla.