EveryBlock testifies for open records ordinance

Mar162009

Today I testified before the Chicago City Council Joint Committee on Finance and Economic, Capital and Technology Development to urge them to pass the TIF Sunshine Ordinance co-sponsored by Alderman Scott Waguespack and Alderman Manny Flores.

“TIF” stands for “Tax Increment Financing“, which is a financing method used by the City of Chicago to encourage development in certain areas. The wide use of TIFs in Chicago has led some to question where the money is spent and why,
so it’s a pretty hot topic in the EveryBlock hometown. The ordinance proposed today calls for some modest changes in the way TIF-related documents are published and maintained on the city Web site.

This kind of work is right on target for EveryBlock. Part of our mission is to make as much information as possible available in the most useful formats. We’re also members of the Illinois Data Exchange Affiliates, a voluntary group of government agencies and not for profit organizations working to improve data sharing in Illinois. This group has worked for years on the very subject covered by this ordinance. As part of the testimony, we also filed a copy of the 8 Principles of Open Government Data with the City Council, and urged them to take these first steps in the right direction. EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty and I participated in a meeting of 30 open government advocates to develop these principles, and they are highly instructive in any effort to publish government data today.

There was an abundance of other testimony arguing that adherence to the ordinance would require very little city resources of time and money that would provide outsized benefits to the people of Chicago. University of Illinois at Chicago Associate Professor Rachel Weber and consultant Valerie Leonard spoke eloquently of the value of the data in academia and community development. And a live demonstration of the city’s existing Web site by the Deputy Commissioner of the department responsible for
administering TIFs went rather poorly.

Despite all of this the ordinance was tabled. We think this was a terrible outcome, but we have hopes for eventual passage next month. And we will continue to work to bring sunshine to all of the cities we work in.

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