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Philadelphia Must Catch Up on Open Government, Councilman Says

Philadelphia has set aside $120 million for technology upgrades over the next six years that will align with the open government goals.

Philadelphia Councilman Bill Green wants the City of Brotherly Love to take a liking to open government.

This spring, Green introduced an open government plan, emphasizing that the city needs to utilize technology in order to go paperless. Green said the city lags behind the rest of the country on open government initiatives, but his new plan will help the city push ahead.

“The great thing about where we are Philadelphia is that we’re 30 years behind everybody else,” Green said. “So we can leapfrog every other jurisdiction in the county and be the nation’s leader in open government and efficiency enhancements that will result from this technology.”

Philadelphia has set aside $120 million for technology upgrades over the next six years that will align with the plan’s goals, although those expenditures will be put on hold until the city fills its vacant CTO position, Green said. The city has advertised nationally for qualified candidates but has no immediate deadline to fill the position.

On Green’s watch, the city has already started to go paperless. Last year, the city implemented radio-frequency identification tagging to replace an eight-step, paper-based system for issuing tickets for unlicensed trash bins.

The city won’t stop there. Philadelphia researched best practices used in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other cities. In Green’s Open Government Philadelphia report, one recommendation the city wants to carry out is posting the city’s check registry online.

Green said it will be crucial for Philadelphia to shift its government information from paper forms to an online database so information can then be more accessible to the public.

“There are a lot of negative views of government today and what I want to give the citizens of Philadelphia is complete confidence that everything we do has an electronic record somewhere that they can easily check on the Internet,” Green said.

Green said a transparent government will create citizen engagement and academic engagement. By having government data available in an extensive, searchable database, students obtaining a master’s degree in public administration at local universities can write doctoral papers on how the city can make improvements, he said.

There’s also financial incentive. Moving toward a paperless environment and enacting open government reforms should save Philadelphia $200 million per year, according to Green’s study.

The 10 recommendations in Green’s Open Government Philadelphia report are:

1.    Enact a comprehensive open data policy.

2.    Provide easy access to legislative voting records.

3.    Post the city’s check registry online.

4.    Enhance functionality/substance of contracting websites.

5.    Post financial disclosure statements online.

6.    Create an online directory of boards and commissions.

7.    Adopt outcome-based budgeting.

8.    Improve public access to budget information.

9.    Increase access to public alerts.

10.    Sponsor an annual apps competition.


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.