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San Mateo County Times


December 28, 1996


By Michael V. Copeland


No waiting in line in Online County



REDWOOD CITY - The worst part of doing business with The County, of course, is taking time to drive down to a drab government building and wait in lines that can seem to take forever. In the bold new electronic world, though, none of that hassle is necessary for simple tasks like getting a grand jury report or finding out who your harbor commissioner is. And it may soon be eliminated for getting copies of birth certificates or registering to vote.

That's the idea behind the latest bells and whistles on San Mateo County's web site, which does things few, if any, other county web sites can.

The county's spot on the World Wide Web has been up and running since March. Already some 18,000 people have visited the site for election results and other information, but with the latest additions to the site, County Assessor/Recorder Warren Slocum hopes that number will balloon.

"Some of these are firsts for any government web site I've ever seen,'' Slocum said.

"Now watch this, this is hot,'' he said, then with a double click of his mouse, called up an online edition of the county's annual grand jury report. The usually thick paper document appears on the screen, neatly divided by category. Photos of the grand jury members compile in the margins on request.

"The real question was, 'How do citizens ever get to the information contained in this report?''' Slocum said. "You'd have to come to the courthouse and obtain a copy, or go to the library and ask for it. Here it's available 24 hours from your own computer.''

Where the web site really show its stuff, however, is when a little computing power is put behind the data.

One such instance is something called the "electronic elected officials yellow pages.'' When called up, the electronic database asks users for their names and addresses. The computer then decides which elected officials - from President Clinton down to the mosquito control officer - represent the person whose name and address has been entered.

Using a link to another web site, users can get maps to the elected official's office. Ultimately, users will be able to enter key words and search for the person or office best able to handle the question or problem.

Also newly updated on the web site is an election results page which features pie charts of selected data - adding a bit of graphical data analysis to what are usually ponderous columns of numbers.

Slocum does not plan to stop there. He and Deputy County Assessor/Clerk Terry Medina are pushing the County Board of Supervisors to approve something they like to call "public information service kiosks.''

Outfitted with computers with touch-sensitive screens, they would contain the information available on the web site, but offer services like printing birth, death, or marriage certificates (for a fee, of course) or registering voters.

Medina envisions the kiosks in shopping centers and perhaps at the San Francisco airport.

"The idea is to take the services to the customers,'' Medina said. "And the beautiful thing is, these things can go anywhere. When someone calls from the San Francisco Airport and says 'I'm boarding a plane and I need a copy of my birth certificate,' I can send it right to them.''