Fort Payne considering an app for citizen requests

At a Sept. 22 work session, members of the Fort Payne City Council reviewed new technology to better enable regular citizens to let the City know about problems needing addressed. They also had a preliminary discussion about a nonprofit possibly taking over operating the DeKalb Theatre, which now sits vacant and mostly unused.

Council members watched a streaming demo of the “SeeClickPlus” platform that citizens can download as a smartphone app to report issues and receive public announcements. It would track and manage workflow and communications, giving staff an easy way to get back to residents with updates on the progress of service requests.

Using GPS, smartphone users can report a pothole, for example, with their precise location shared on a map, along with an optional snapshot.

It can also educate citizens when a rapid response isn’t always possible due to the way road construction materials react to cold temperatures so they understand they aren’t being ignored. Reports about Gault Avenue can generate a message informing the user that it is a state road over which they lack any jurisdiction to repair. Other scenarios include reporting an abandoned car, graffiti, illegal dumping, city property in need of maintenance, water leaks, faulty street light or traffic signals, etc.

SeeClickPlus could easily integrate with the City’s Facebook Page and its new website, according to CivicPlus representative Andrew Shetty. He shared other cities’ websites where the municipal logo and branding replaced the generic header.

Since it would cost $5,000 for only five licensed users inside the City, Council members also spoke with Julie May, owner and lead designer for Anything Creative, the Rainsville company hired to redesign the City’s website. She recommended a similar problem reporting ticket system that would cost roughly $1,300 to design and $99 a year for the software. It would lack some of the functionality of the SeeClickPlus app, mainly with regard to mapping and allowing users to see whether others have reported the same issue. May said the total cost depends on how often it is used, and Council members won’t see as much value in any system if the majority of citizens still use the telephone to call them direcctly.

Mayor Brian Baine said he would reach out to officials in Albertville and Cullman who already use SeeClickPlus to get their feedback and report back to the Council at Wednesday’s 4 p.m. work session. A vote could happen at the Oct. 5 regular meeting, scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Council members also talked briefly with Madison and Kaelin Hagler about their vision for transforming the DeKalb Theatre into a “central hub and destination location giving people a reason to come downtown.”

Col. Thomas E. Orr opened the DeKalb Theatre on July 1, 1935, with a showing of the film “Naughty Marietta.” In 1950, its seating capacity grew from 350 to 500 seats. It cannot formally qualify as a historically preserved structure because the City replaced the original seats to add bleachers while restoring it as a multi-purpose venue in the 1990s.

The Haglers graduated from high school locally before earning degrees in the arts from the University of Cincinnati. They detailed a proposed five-year plan to establish a 501(c)(3) organization, elect a board of directors, begin community fundraising and ultimately develop a rebranding of the DeKalb Theatre to include annual summer art camps for children, add rehearsal and workshop space, and produce regular professional theatrical performances such as A Christmas Carol to introduce a seasonal Fort Payne tradition.

Council members will consult City Attorney Rocky Watson as the Haglers inspect the building. Council member Johnny Eberhart stated the theatre’s roof is relatively new, but the longer the facility sits unused, the quicker it will need replaced. The Council would remain consulted on any structural changes proposed to the theatre or adjoining courtyard.

The Haglers said they would “meet the people were they’re at” in terms of programming as they seek to give people a reason to regularly seek entertainment downtown, encourage the development of local talent and generate tourist dollars for the local economy.

Kaelin Hagler said they would have more to say about their plans if and when they formally enter into an agreement with the City.

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