The Brief: Ethics 2.0 in the Mayoral Agenda

Will the candidates embrace open data?

Mark Headd

Mark Headd

In 2015, should a mayoral candidate’s ethics platform be taken seriously if it doesn’t address open data?

Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s former Chief Data Officer, argues that open data is a key part of any ethical government.

Almost three years ago, Mayor Nutter signed an executive order establishing the city’s open data policy. Headd writes on his blog:

As the third anniversary of the signing of this executive order approaches, followed closely by the Philadelphia Democratic Primary, it seems appropriate for Philadelphians to take stock of how open their city government really is. The record of the current Administration on open data may provide some guidance for voters as they head to the polls in just a few short months.

For example, despite the adoption of the executive order on open data the city has not yet released detailed spending information in an open format or a list of the salaries for public officials and employees – almost every other large city in America currently makes these kinds of information available as open data. The city has not yet released data on property tax collections or ownership information for derelict properties that is of great interest in neighborhoods across the city. And the process used by the city to respond to public Right to Know Requests is slow and cumbersome and often fails to live up to the rhetoric around the open data effort.

Philadelphia voters have an opportunity to ensure that their next Mayor is as committed to the idea of ethical government as the outgoing one. They now have the opportunity to ask candidates to clearly articulate their plans for ensuring that city government is open, ethical and responsive.

So far, only two mayoral candidates have released policy papers — and they were about education. It’s relatively early in the race, though, and many more papers will be released in the coming weeks. We’ll be keeping a close watch on them. Technically Philly is also grilling the mayoral candidates about open data and other tech policies.

Relatedly, the government watchdog Committee of Seventy released its integrity agenda for mayoral and City Council candidates on Monday. It calls on them to “demand the disclosure of donors whose money is being used to fund independent expenditures in city elections,” among other things.

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