Jacksonville’s city government could do a better job engaging the public and being transparent, according to the Task Force on Open Government report issued in late June (view or download pdf document here). It calls specifically for an easy to understand city budget, an improved city website and easier access to department heads and public records by journalists. It also calls for regular posting of emails and text messages by the administration and city council members.
Declaring that the task force “did a good job,” Florida Times-Union editors argued that “the people have a right to be treated as an active participant in government — not as a passive bystander whose presence is merely tolerated” (July 13, 2018 Times-Union editorial).
Appointed by then council president Anna Lopez Brosche, the task force paid particular attention to transparency, the treatment of public records, and the ease with which citizens engage with local government. The city’s website and presentation of the city’s budget received special attention. Calling the website “difficult to navigate” and the budget “difficult to understand” and “opaque,” the task force compared examples of public budget presentations by previous administrations to those of mayor Lenny Curry’s.
The Peyton public “budget in brief” was simple, fitting on a few pages that showed current revenue and expense and recent trend lines. The Curry budget exceeds 400 pages in length and does not include a simple to understand public version. The task force recommended that the current administration reintroduce the budget-in-brief document.
It also listened to a presentation by Novus Insight, a strategic consulting IT firm with offices in Jacksonville. Novus illustrated how Jacksonville’s coj.net can be improved. Other city sites, Novus explained, make it much easier for local residents to understand basic services, legislation, budgets, and regulations, and cited Louisville, Ky, as one example (www.LouisvilleKy.gov). Its homepage includes a link to Transparency/Open Data which takes citizens directly to the city’s budget, public records, and open data portal:
Louisville’s approach to open government is part of the data-smart city solutions movement spreading across the country. According to Jane Wiseman, Fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, chief data officers from leading cities have created Civic Analytics Network to learn how to use data to solve local problems such as homelessness and exposure to lead poisoning.
“What is common at the highest level of data-driven government is strong leadership that establishes the culture – a culture of valuing the use of data to set priorities and allocate resources,” writes Wiseman (How Data-Driven Is Your City?” https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/how-data-driven-your-city).
According to the task force, Jacksonville’s citizens would benefit from Jacksonville’s joining the data-smart city movement.
- full disclosure: Author Sherry Magill co-chaired the Task Force