City Hall could become even more of a hot spot

Port Orchard City Councilman Fred Chang has a vision for City Hall, and it involves more than residents stopping by to pick up a permit or pay a parking ticket.

His vision starts small but could grow larger. Chang is promoting a project to bring a public WiFi hot spot — a wireless Internet connection — to City Hall as an experiment, with an eye towards offering a connection throughout the downtown core.

On Monday night the Port Orchard City Council will tackle the idea after an initial conversation on July 9.

City staff researched the issue and, in the documents for Monday’s meeting, requested that the council provide clear direction for the WiFi program.

The staffers estimated the establishment of an open WiFi connection in the downtown core could cost up to $50,000.

City staff also discussed trying it out at City Hall before opening a connection throughout downtown.

The WiFi idea ties in with Chang’s self-avowed passion for open government. He talks regularly about keeping communication and information accessible to residents, but now he wants to draw people closer to the heart of Port Orchard government.

Chang said he wanted more than just open government.

“I also want it to be interesting,” he said. “I don’t know if City Hall will ever be exciting, but at least it will be more central to people’s lives.”

If people stop by to check their e-mail, Chang noted, maybe they’ll learn about something happening at City Hall and become more involved.

The enthusiasm for the idea has seeped from Chang to other members of the council, but the question of how still remains.

“It’s a great idea,” Mayor Kim Abel said. “It’s just trying to find all the ways to be put together.”

At the July 9 meeting, the council grappled with the idea and debated the commercial impacts of such a venture.

Councilman Bob Geiger wor-ried the wireless connection would take business away from coffee shops and restaurants that use WiFi hotspots as customer incentive.

“Traditionally governments, where it’s an optional thing, should not be competing with private business,” Geiger said.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers brought up initial concerns for Internet security and the demands of city staff.

If Port Orchard provided a wireless connection, would staff need to attend to citizens coming by just for an Internet connection, she asked.

“I was trying to get a better understanding before I said “aye” or “nay” at a council meeting,” Powers said.

The council will discuss the issue on Monday evening at City Hall, 216 Prospect Street, at 7 p.m.

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