Andy Harris correspondent

KENT:  There is no question that the core nature of how citizens interact with their government, on any level, on any number of issues, is changing.

Digital communications long ago surpassed letters and face-to-face contact on many matters and for the city of Kent, the shift toward online interaction is illustrated by the growth of its "Citizen Action Center" on the official city website.

As part of the Kent Support Center page of the site, the Citizen Action Center addresses common issues Kent residents are likely to encounter and allows them to gain information without having to stop by city hall or call a council member.

With dozens of topics ranging from "Can I have a fire in my backyard?" to "In the city of Kent, do I need a permit to have a garage sale?" and many more, the action center allows citizens to both ask questions and receive answers online.

Asking a question necessitates creating a free account, but that account also allows users to perform tasks that would otherwise require a call to a certain city department, like reporting an abandoned vehicle or possible building maintenance violations.

City Manager Dave Ruller has been heavily involved with the action center, which was created five years ago, and Ruller says it has never been more heavily used than it is at present.

Pointing toward statistics for the center's use over the course of 2012, Ruller noted that the 25,427 views of the "Frequently Asked Questions" page were more than any two of the previous four years combined and represented more than 40 percent of the total views in the action center's five years.

"It’s been five years since we added the Citizen Action Center to our city website and some 62,000 viewings later, it seems to be stronger than ever," Ruller said.

He added that the number of clicks on the FAQ page were up 59 percent from 2011 and 373 percent from 2010, which was the slowest year for traffic on the page with 5,375 clicks.

Those numbers suggest that the page is having its desired effect of answering common questions that could otherwise consume time for city officials and take away from other projects.

"The Citizen Action Center was born from a desire to give residents a place to find answers to the most common questions that come in to City Hall," Ruller explained.

The FAQ database currently contains 41 of what Ruller characterizes as the most frequently asked questions, including what he cites as the two most popular: the aforementioned question about backyard fires and, "Does the city provide garbage pick-up?"

The city's Building Department has garnered the most views of its FAQs in four of the center's five years and reached an all-time high in 2012 with 4,655 clicks, more than 18 percent of the total number of clicks for the center.

Service requests are another popular element of the page, with the most common requests being issues such as overgrown grass, excessive trash and unrepaired potholes. Those requests, Ruller adds, are sent along to the Public Service Department to be addressed.

"I’m pleased to report that the time it takes us to respond to the service request has dropped from 8.4 days in 2008 to 2.3 days in 2012," Ruller said, underscoring how the center has helped address these issues in its five years of existence.