Twitter: @fred_mcghee

Campaign Finance Data Challenge: declined

Open Data

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 Austin City Council is a policy making body, not an "encouraging" body. Resolutions 20111208-074 and 20071101-037, among others, direct the city manager to proactively disclose city data and to implement other basic open government provisions such as transparency, efficiency, and collaboration. As a member of the Austin City Council I will support these resolutions and will hold city government accountable for their execution.

⇒ 2. How would you evaluate departments' compliance with the Open Government Resolution? Would you support a resolution to create a quarterly report card?

The 2011 resolution furnishes some benchmarks that the city council could use, but they could use some significant tightening up. I would be happy to collaborate with groups such as Open Austin to draft a more precise qualitative and quantitative assessment that the city manager could use.

⇒ 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?


Innovation Office

⇒ 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?

I did not support the establishment of this office. In a city as unequal as Austin, I viewed this initiative as another example of misplaced priorities. Austin is an inherently innovative city and there are better ways for us to spend this type of taxpayer money. Instead of hiring an innovation "czar" we should seek to remove what are mostly political barriers to open government that exist in our city, and unleash forces of innovation from within. It should be noted at the outset that such an effort is about long-term change, not about "bling" projects that are short term but get attention.

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?

Germany has some of the best municipal websites in the world. Hamburg's website is a world model, and the website of my German hometown Karlsruhe is also quite good. Notice that these are multi-lingual websites, and I strongly support making the entirety of the City of Austin website available in both English and Spanish, as well as other languages. We do not need to re-invent the wheel; what we need is political and managerial leadership that understands where the good examples are and that has the know- how to steer Austin in the right direction. Any city leader, whether a city employee or not, that is willing to tackle this challenge will have my strong support from the city council dais.

⇒ 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?

Citizens should be able to furnish feedback in a manner similar to my German hometown of Karlsruhe: via mobile phone app (IPhone or Android) as well as via the website or email. A dedicated link to all feedback submissions with their responses should be furnished to citizens via email, web, and SMS message. A new study indicates that politicians that use Twitter also appear to furnish better constituent service. Accordingly, I believe that city council members ought to have a strong social media presence.

⇒ 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?

As someone with a long track record of working in Austin's public housing projects, I watched the establishment of Austin Free-Net with considerable interest. The discussion at that time was about the digital divide, not about digital "inclusion." I saw the late Ana Sisnett work tirelessly to get city leaders onboard with her initiatives at a time when Eastside digital poverty and digital inequality (more descriptive terms, in my view) were scarcely on the local political radar. With local real estate management companies and our local housing authority now requiring low-income (and frequently disabled or elderly) tenants to digitally pay their rent or to sign up for services such as Section 8 housing, this issue is poised to once again become big news. To the extent that the district and citywide population lacks not just the resources but also the education to utilize digital resources, we have a problem. That problem is part of a larger problem. Inequality.

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?

I'm not sure I understand this question. Do you mean if I get elected? Assuming that is the case, what I would do is to hold the city manager accountable for complying with the resolution.

⇒ 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 am happy to comply with all campaign finance requirements. But it is the city that bears responsibility for converting the data that candidates submit into something of its choosing that is searchable. As a Charter Revision Committee member I supported this provision, but not to make life harder on candidates, many of whom are cash-strapped first time candidates new to the process. We have a record number of candidates running for the Austin City Council in 2014, and that development matters more for democracy in Austin than pedantic insistence on this provision. It is the city that has been dragging its feet on this matter, not the candidates.