Campaign Finance Data Challenge: accepted
Many of these issues, such as the Open Data Portal and Open Government Resolution, are discussed in our Open Government Briefing Guide.
⇒ 1. How will you encourage City departments to comply with the Open Government Resolution and place useful data on the open data portal on a timely basis?
The City of Austin’s data portal provides the City the opportunity to achieve unparalleled transparency and share critical data from all City departments with the public. Through data sharing including our eCheckbook function which features every City expense to our data related to water samples, APD incidents, and utility contact center calls, the City is setting an example by shedding light on many of our day-to-day functions. This practice not only helps to foster trust within the community, it also provides tools for our engaged citizens to use as they help us improve our current practices and develop innovation solutions for the City’s future. As useful as the open data portal is, this function is highly underutilized because many Austinites don’t realize that we currently offer access to this level of City information. I believe we should do more to educate our residents about this service on the City website and encourage folks to actively engage with the contents of what we offer. We should also do a formal review of our progress related to the Open Government Resolution and take active steps to move forward with any pieces of the policy that have yet to be implemented.
⇒ 2. How would you evaluate departments' compliance with the Open Government Resolution? Would you support a resolution to create a quarterly report card?
Department directors across the City report directly to the City Manager, but I would be willing to coordinate with him to come up with creative ways to incentivize compliance with the Open Government Resolution and encourage increased sharing of open data. Internal City contests related to data sharing could be a good starting point to reengage our City staff in the data sharing process and might result in more innovative results than taking a punitive approach for noncompliance. We must be able to measure the performance of our departments in this area, and a quarterly report card would provide a clear structure for expectations from departments in addition to building in a regular review process that will allow us to continue to build on our successes.
⇒ 3. Would you support a resolution to require that any software or software services purchased by the City must be accompanied by an open data plan that indicates how public data managed by that system will be made available to the public?
I believe we should continue to look for ways to make forward progress in our accessibility of open data, and investing in software that includes an open data plan will help us achieve this goal. By making this investment up front, we could potentially save staff time and resources while improving the delivery of data to the public.
⇒ 4. This past March, the City hired its first Chief Innovation Officer. What are the specific functions and initiatives you would like to see out of this office to advance the City's open government and open data efforts?
By hiring our new Chief Innovation Officer, the City has taken a significant step forward in advancing our practices related to internal use of data and data sharing with the public. Cities across the country have been improving the availability and usability of data and subsequently have been able to engage their citizens in helping to find meaningful solutions to a wide array of municipal issues. Gavin Newsom wrote an entire book about the benefits of using data to reinvent government and public participation, and we should look at best practices from other cities to see where we can continue to grow in how we use public data and engage with the public. Improving this process will increase our transparency and accountability and also give the public resources to actively work with the City’s data to help us find creative solutions to our problems. Our Chief Innovation Officer is best equipped to lead this initiative, and I look forward to working directly with her to revamp our current practices.
Website and Online Services
⇒ 5. What steps would you take to help ensure the City of Austin website provides the tools and information that citizens and community groups want?
The City has received a significant amount of fair criticisms for how we structured our new City website. We must view our website as a work in progress and consider constructive feedback from the public as we work to ensure our site is user friendly. I would encourage the Council Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee to require quarterly reports from City Staff about improvements underway and will continue to take public feedback as we work out the many kinks in our new website.
⇒ 6. Would you support action to create an online issue feedback/reporting system, where a citizen could report an issue with the City's website and other online properties, and track city response to that issue?
City Council offices and City Management offices currently have access to a system referred to as ACAP that allows us to formally log complaints from citizens for any particular department, which then sets deadlines and a formal process for responding to citizen inquiries. While this system has served us well over the years, I believe we should reformat this practice to be open to the public, in addition to letting Austinites submit questions to engage directly with department directors and their staff. By hosting this function on the public portion of the City’s website, we would be providing the public an additional tool for understanding City issues and a way to directly weigh in on challenges or needs for additional City services.
⇒ 7. There are strong benefits to providing city information and services online. Many residents, however, experience barriers to access. (See discussion of "Digital Inclusion" in our Open Government Briefing Guide.) What do you see as the City's responsibility regarding digital inclusion, and what steps would you take to address these concerns?
We should go beyond relying mainly on our libraries to provide access to the internet and look for other ways to increase accessibility to digital services for our residents. I believe that Google Fiber will provide many opportunities for us to expand access across the City. The City Council approved 100 public and nonprofit sites to receive these services, and we should partner with them to find ways to use those new locations as hubs for digital inclusion for our entire community.
Open Data Exercise: Campaign Finance Filings
The City of Austin currently posts candidate and office holder financial statements as scanned facsimiles (PDF format) of the filed, attested documents. In 2012, the City Council approved a resolution to post these filings in a searchable, digital form.
⇒ 8. What would you do to ensure this project is completed before the next municipal election?
Campaign finance reports filled out using software and posted on the City Clerk’s website are currently searchable, but sharing the forms in a more user friendly format would increase accessibility of this data for Austinites. If elected as your next Mayor, I’ll work with the Clerk’s office to ensure we fulfill the requirements of the resolution passed in 2012 and move forward with any other changes that make this data more user-friendly.
⇒ 9. Will you publicly post your campaign receipts and expenditures (as reported to the City on form C/OH) online, in CSV spreadsheet data format, within 30 days of filing a report with the Austin City Clerk? Where will you post it?
I comply with our reporting requirements and would be open to releasing data from my campaign finance reports in a spreadsheet that is easier for the public to work with. For this campaign cycle, we could post the reports on the campaign website. I would encourage the organizers of Open Austin to supply a location for officeholders to post campaign finance reports that would be easily accessible by the public.