“Public = Online”: Transparency Legislation Introduced in the City Council for Government 2.0
Council Member Ben Kallos Introduces Online Public Information, Public Notices and City Record Online
New York, NY -- Today, New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is introducing three bills designed to bring New York City’s public data into the 21st Century through increased transparency and accessibility online: “eNotices,” “Public Online Information Act" (POIA) and "City Record On-Line" (CROL).
Int. 367, “eNotices” will mandate that public notices be accessible online to New Yorkers while expanding and specifying the definition of “public notices.” In addition to publication in newspapers, and the City Record or posts on bulletin boards and lampposts, residents will also have access to notifications on centralized websites with open application program interface (API) to provide shareable data to empower civic hackers and developers to create their own apps to disseminate items of local importance.
Examples of such notices include:
- Community Board meetings on liquor licenses for a bar on your neighborhood;
- Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) applications on zoning changes to your neighborhood; and
- City Council meetings on sidewalk cafes or concessions.
Int. 368, “Public Online Information Act” (POIA)" mandates that materials that are “public information” or subject to public inspection be made accessible to the public in a timely fashion and machine-readable format through the agency’s website and a centralized website with an open API. Building on the strides of the Open Data Law, this legislation will put materials online such as:
- City contracts;
- Department of building technical standards, accident investigations, and waivers; and
- Keyword-searchable transcripts from public hearings.
This legislation is modeled on federal bill by the same name introduced this year by Congress Member Steve Israel (D-NY) as H.R. 4312 and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) as S. 549, a bill advocated for by Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Media and Chairman of NY Tech Meetup. It also supplements Open Data, Local Law 11 of 2012, passed by former Council Member Gale Brewer, the current Manhattan Borough President.
Int. 363, “City Record Online,” introduced with Council Member Jimmy Vacca, mandates the improvement of the existing City Record On-Line (CROL) website by mandating that all items currently in the paper copy of the City Record published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) be included in the web version with an open application program interface (API) to empower developers to create their own apps to track the city’s contract bids and awards. This also includes a green cost-savings initiative to reduce waste by removing the outdated requirement that the City Record be circulated on paper to government offices.
“‘Public information’ and ‘public notice’ shouldn’t be a game of hide and seek. Government needs to join the 21st century, where public means online and only a click away,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime transparency advocate and Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. “We should not be spending time and money to lock information away in filing cabinets and the basements of municipal buildings or posting them on bulletin boards that no one sees. Information wants to be free.”
“Considering the advancements in technology, there is no reason New York City must rely solely on hardcopy materials to disseminate notices and information. It’s about time public notices and records entered the 21st Century and were made available to the public online,” said Council Member James Vacca.
“I commend Council Member Kallos for introducing this package of bills, which will strengthen transparency and accountability. We live in the 21st century and government should be using current technology to make public information more readily available and accessible. This legislation does exactly that,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).
"In our day and age information required by law or regulation to be "public" should not be left sitting in a hard to find file cabinet in a government office. It should be online and easily searchable so that everyone can have regular and easy access to it if and when they need it,” said Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Forum. "The NYC Public Online Information Act proposed by Councilman Ben Kallos is a simple innovation that governments everywhere will soon use to as a model for increasing their transparency and accountability and for enriching democracy in the 21st century."
"The Sunlight Foundation commends New York City's introduction of the Public Information Online Act. Access to public information in the 21st century means putting that information online and in open, structured formats that are both human and machine-readable. New York City's law will incorporate the additional best practice of making the city's information available for bulk download and through an API. New York's effort to put public notices and the City Record immediately online represent an additional important advance for public information in the modern era," said Emily Shaw, National Policy Manager for the Sunlight Foundation.
"The Committee on Open Government has long been a proponent of proactive disclosure. Requiring City agencies to post information online, rather than requiring the public to submit FOIL requests, will be of great benefit to the public, as well as the government. When government has the ability to make information available via an open data platform, we will see creativity and innovation that many cannot now imagine," said Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.
"NYPIRG greatly appreciates Council Member Kallos' leadership in promoting transparency in government," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"Digital access to municipal government should be standard operating procedure in a world in which everything is key word searchable, and open data is increasingly the norm. This robust package of legislation would do just that, providing the public with up to the minute information at their fingertips. An informed electorate is an engaged one," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York.
"Governments should make its data (exclucing people's personal data) available for easy access in freedom: on web sites that people can use with free/libre software," said Richard Stallman, Founder of the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation.
"The public has a right to know and easily access government information. Through this trio of transparency bills, we will see a more accountable, progressive and modern City government," said Bill Samuels, Founder of EffectiveNY.
"A free and open New York City depends on free, open and fully-accessible city information," said Seamus Kraft, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation. "Today, that means NYC's most important civic data - and the processes that produce it - should be available to everyone online, on-demand and in the best formats possible. The legislation introduced by Councilman Kallos today not only represents a sea change for civic data and the way it is made: it is the model for how municipal leaders across America should be reinventing their own governments to support informed, engaged communities that can tackle our toughest challenges.
"For there to be a New York city government for the people by the people for the 21st century, we need eNotices, Public Online Information Act (POIA), and City Record Online act to pass. We need our government to update how it communicates with its people. We need a government that communicates in the same way the people communicate with each other. We commend New York city for experimenting with Notify NYC and SMS programs. To expand these type of programs, we need more structured and machine readable data.
"93% of New Yorkers have mobile phones. 50% of New Yorkers have smart phones. 40% have tablets. Yet, most of NYC.gov's information is shared in non-machine readable code -- PDFs, scanned images, require desktop computers with high speed internet access. This government technology creates a digital inequality -- one, connected to their friends and family. Another, connected to the ins and outs of government.
"Last year, we published the People Guide to the Digital New York City. In this report, we outlined five programs that will bring this government into the 21st century. We are excited to see the Council adopt these ideas and put them into practice. These collection of bills -- eNotices, Public Online Information Act (POIA), & City Record Online -- will eradicate complicated, pre-existing barriers to access. Combine these data points with the city's technology, media, and design industry, and the all New Yorkers have a participatory future," said Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC.