1. Do you support the adoption of a comprehensive Open Government Directive by the City of Austin? The Open Government Directive would outline a consistent approach to open data, technology-enabled citizen engagement, open decision-making algorithms, and civic application development and be based on existing documents such as model legislation developed by the Sunlight Foundation, Code for America, and Civic Commons.
Yes, I will support legislation that favors openness and transparency and feel that the presumption should always be towards a more open set of policies for city government. Two years ago, as the City was gearing up to overhaul its current website I sponsored a resolution directing the City manager to make transparency a core value moving forward in the design and operation of the new site. Some restrictions on information are valid, but I feel that cities should publish as much information as possible, and publish it in as open and accessible a format as possible, too. I am hesitant to commit to an omnibus "Open Government Directive" without better understanding all the impacts, but I am, and will remain a strong voice for openness and transparency.
2. Do you support the inclusion of the municipal Open Government Directive’s goals as performance benchmarks for each City of Austin department?
I support some form of benchmark to drive all of our operations towards a more transparent approach, but I would need to better understand the implications of this request, in particular how it impacts our public safety, health and human services, and human resources departments.
I am inclined to support such a release, but want to point out that different situations may require different approaches to this question. For example, I sit on the board of the Pecan Street Project, a renewable energy initiative between several parties including the City and The University of Texas, as well as several corporate partners and nonprofit organizations. One of our goals is to figure out how to re--tool the energy utility's business and operations model to allow for conservation and grid management. As these tools are developed, and software will certainly be a component here, there have been discussions about "open source" technologies and gifting them to other utilities struggling with the same issues around the globe. We are not the only partner in this endeavor, however, and as an independent entity now, the Pecan Street Project is also grappling with its own business model. All this to say ---- I am familiar with the concept, but in some cases it will depend on the partners and the development agreement among them.
4. Do you support the existence of an Information Authority modeled after the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office to provide oversight of government data as a public good?
No, I don't think a municipality of our size needs to set up an independent office to uphold information rights in the public interest or rule on data privacy for individuals. Transparency should be a priority for all of us in city government.
5. Do you support studying whether Austin should join cities such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., in pledging support for a publicly-accessible open-standard protocol for 311 services, such as the currently proposed Open311 API specification?
There is no question that we could do a better job tracking and coordinating data. One of the challenges here at City Hall is the "silo effect" that results in different departments not knowing what the other is doing. Better IT coordination would help, not just with 311, but also in our infrastructure planning, utility customer service functions and overall service delivery in the health and human services department. I'm hesitant to commit to this exact strategy described without understanding more, but I like the idea and I would be happy to meet and learn more. I like the citizen--driven side of this application, but need to understand more before I commit to supporting it.
6. Do you support the creation of an application development contest that leverages public data and APIs?
I don't oppose this idea, but I would need to understand the cost and want to have the various departments at the table to ensure the results were going to be solutions to problems and not more IT features to manage without a defined upside. The idea has a great research and development aspect, and I can imagine a number of useful apps coming from such an undertaking.
7. How will you and/or your staff use social media to promote citizen engagement and improved service delivery?
This is not an easy question. Certainly, there are many things we can do with respect to promoting information and outreach opportunities that better engage citizens and more directly connect them to city services. It becomes more challenging, however, when we consider conducting public business. The value of transparency must also be balanced against other laws that prevent council members from deliberating or forming a quorum outside of a public meeting. So if I'm tweeting on an item and then three other council members post that tweet on their social media pages, have we just colluded to reach a consensus? Is instant messaging "speech" or a public record like an email? Governments across the nation (and the world) are facing similar questions, and our state courts have several cases in front of them. Clearly, changes in technology are happening far more quickly than our legislators could ever have anticipated when the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts were codified in the 1970s.