Cuyahoga County and the TAP initiative were highlighted at this year’s Transparency Camp, the Sunlight Foundation‘s annual unconference on transparency and open government.

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Transparency Camp 2012 was a mashup of 450 hackers, bureaucrats, journalists and activists on April 28th-29th at George Mason University in Arlington, VA. Two days to discuss public policy, civic engagement, technology, and transparency.

Last year’s Transparency Camp helped inform and inspire the 2011 TAP (Transparency Action Plan) Summit on open government in Cuyahoga County. This year, Sunlight featured our local efforts by inviting Beth Sebian and Jeff Schuler to speak at the TCamp 2012 opening.

Beth and Jeff shared with the TCamp audience their stories of the TAP Summit, the County government’s strides toward transparency, and the developing partnership with Cuyahoga County. They shared optimism for the future of the relationship with the County and for Cleveland’s civic hacking community, and applauded Cuyahoga County CIO, Jeff Mowry, for his collaboration as well as his attendance at TCamp 2012.

Check out the video of TCamp’s opening session: (skip to 9:18 for Beth’s and Jeff’s talks.)

After the opening, orderly chaos ensued. The unconference format allows anyone to propose a topic and lead or facilitate a session around it. Through online voting and human curation, chosen sessions were slotted for one of the 13 rooms and five session periods per day, and participants voted with their feet.

Sessions ranged from political to technical on topics like legislation, data visualization, corporate influence, and linked data. A few sessions were presentation-style; most were ad-hoc or facilitated discussions involving all participants. DC food trucks provided lunch.

The second day began with speakers including White House CTO, Todd Park, then returned to unconference discussions, and finally closed with a session allowing participants to share their takeaways and next steps.

Some folks stuck around a third day for the Hackathon, where participants brainstormed and collaborated on ideas around/using the Voting Information Project (VIP.) Jeff Schuler worked with a Code for America fellow to build interactive documentation for the VIP’s application programming interface (API,) a service that allows programmers to build tools to access election and voting information.

TCamp 2012 offered an extraordinary wealth of ideas and opportunities to connect, and was itself a model of open and efficient participation. Jeff M., Beth, and Jeff S. all returned with ideas and inspiration they’re excited to share!

Get a feel for what TCamp 2012 was like — and get excited for TCamp 2013 — in this short video recap:

 

Developers and designers, working under the name Civic Design and Development Collaborative (CDDC), began work earlier this month on a new customer service web survey that will be implemented by Cuyahoga County. The County approached the TAP group at the end of December to build a mobile friendly template that the County could launch in conjunction with a new paper version of the survey early this spring.

The CDDC team includes:

  • Michael Goodill is the Marketing Manager at LiveCLEVELAND!, a civic marketing agency. In this capacity, he interfaces with many civic and non-profit entities including the City of Cleveland, CMSD, County Land Bank, and all the neighborhood CDCs.  His primary focus is utilizing technology to create community and a sense of place. To that end he also runs the website/newsletter Cleveland Art Guide(www.clevelandartguide).
  • Adam Harvey: Cuyahoga County ISC Liaison
  • John Homenko is the Web, Windows, and Database Manager for Cuyahoga County’s Employment Family Services (Human Services).  John has an MBA from CWRU (2002) and a Master’s of Health Sciences from CSU (2008).  He’s helped the county develop over 75 applications in a ten year period.  He’s taken all Microsoft courses for the certifiied developer certificate and data base administrator certificate, and has some experience in the open source world: configuring a Linux server and setting up an apache based web site using perl/java script.
  • Parag Jagdale is an experienced web application developer and designer with a proven ability to solve unique user experience design problems. Parag founded Un-identified, LLC (http://www.un-identified.com) in 2006 and has become a passionate devotee to standards-based HTML/CSS development. More recently, Parag has worked on large scale web applications as a software engineer for Innovative Process Administration LLC and The Civic Commons. He has also worked as lead designer on several projects. Parag dreams big but focuses on one pixel at a time.
  • Kevin Leeson: Cleveland Coalition and TAP organizer
  • Marlin Linger
  • Jeff Schuler builds websites and mobile apps as Substrate Websoft for orgs addressing environment, empowerment, and education. He advocates open source, open standards, open data, and open-mindedness. He led breakouts on open data at the TAP Summit, manages the Cleveland Civic Hacking Meetup and Drupal User Group, and is organizing this project.
  • Jim Simpson owns a mobile app development platform which provides developers and non-developers a simple, affordable wysiwyg portal and dashboard to create active mobile apps, websites, forms and anything else mobile the same day. We also provide app development assistance and seek local professional developers for the specialty needs of our clients, to further enhance our platform. www.localmobil.com
  • Will Skora is a recent college graduate and is passionate about mapping and using open data to create transparency in local government and to educate and empower residents. He is also author of the Cleveland Neighborhood Map: http://skorasaurus.wordpress.com/cleveland-neighborhood-map/
  • Stuart Smith
  • James R Stone is an independent Drupal consultant in the Northeast Ohio area. Clients, both local and remote, are a mixture of non-profit, small business, websites, enterprise intranets and medical records application development. I am proud to be a part of the growing Cuyahoga TAP community – finding ways to bring the community and information together.
 

This month, Beth Sebian was recognized as an OpenGov Champion by the Washington, DC hub of all things transparency, the Sunlight Foundation for organizing the TAP Summit and promoting Open Gov through her work in Cleveland.

See Sunlight Foundation’s Open Gov Champions.

Thanks to the Civic Commons and Jill Miller Zimon for supporting the TAP Summit and recognizing Beth Sebian and the Cleveland Coalition’s Work.

 

Organizers and participant from the TAP Summit met November 9 with Cuyahoga County Communications Director Nicole Dailey Jones and Chief Information Officer Jeff Mowry to discuss new open government initiatives coming from TAP.

The County has made incredible advances already this fall, including the launch of a new, user-friendly website and the announcement of several developing projects. These include My Cuyahoga Concept aimed at engaging the public in a meaningful way, and the Open Government Transparency Initiative, which provides greater access to information about county contracts and spending.
Communication’s Director Dailey Jones and CIO Mowry shared a presentation highlighting developments at the County to make information more accessible to the public. Check out their progress here:
The group looked forward to more collaboration between TAP and the County in the future, including a partnership to develop a new web app to invite customer service feedback in county departments. If you would like to get more involved, please contact us via the “Contact” link in the menubar above. We will schedule a meeting with CIO Mowry in December to discuss the web app in more depth, and the entire TAP group will reconvene for a follow-up public meeting in January.
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Participants at the TAP Summit outlined an agenda for making our county government more open and transparent. View the findings of each workgroup:

VIDEO

 

“What is Transparency?” presentation by Cleveland Coalition member Beth Sebian.

 

Includes presentation by Cuyahoga County Public Policy Fellows, County Executive Edward FitzGerald, and County Councilman Dave Greenspan.

 

County Representatives
Lorena Lockett, Director, Office of Procurement and Diversity
David Merriman, Special Assistant to the Executive

Facilitators
Kevin Leeson, Jenny Spencer, and Gauri Torgelkar

Three Key Takeaways

  1. The County already has strong policies and procedures in place to ensure an ethical and transparent procurement process. Evading County policies is no longer an option.
  2. More can be done to illustrate to a non-expert audience the policies and procedures in place; expanding the basic information available online would instill confidence.
  3. Transparency in the context of procurement requires targeted work to very specialized vendor audiences. Transparency work in this area should target the relationship and communication between county government and these audiences.

Next Steps

  1. Complete ethics training for County employees and prospective vendors; generate lists of businesses that have undergone training.
  2. Use lists to notify prospective bidders of available opportunities. Increase amount of detail published online through upgrades to the BuySpeed system.
  3. Reinforce culture of even-handedness and openness within the County; improve public trust by providing examples of how following processes saves public money.

Resources

 

Goals

  • a. Timeline/Vision Statement: To develop a searchable database allowing all of us to make informed decisions and have eyes on what is happening. Full disclosure with a sustainable development approach.
  • b. Benchmarks/Measurements: There are already conversations about with the State allowing the County to post campaign finance reports electronically. collect financial records for the County.
  • c. Short-term action steps

Where are we now?

  • 
Pat McDonald: Deputy Director, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
  • Dale Miller: Cuyahoga County Council Member, District 2 and former State Senator
  • Catherine Turcer: Director, Ohio Citizen Action’s Money in Politics Project and Transition Advisory Group member for finance reform

Transition Advisory Group (TAG) Suggestions
Electronic Campaign Finance Reporting

  • Need an open, searchable database (Something that allows people to drill down to a neighborhood level/Need to start working with IT from the very start)Will allow citizens to see who is making donations and where expenditures are going
  • Will allow people to keep an eye on who is influencing decisions.
  • Need to build a database in-house than working from the state system (Have to build something that can be built upon and be flexible)

Lobbyist Registration-DONE!

  • This was included in the far-reaching ethics law that regulates the conduct of employees, contractors, lobbyists and appointees to boards and commissions.
  • There is still some work that needs to be done-limiting meals, etc.
  • Lobbyists must register with the Inspector General and are forbidden from giving anything of value to employees, or from making campaign contributions.
  • This goes even further than the TAG suggestions

Campaign Contribution limits

  • Proposed limits by County Council based Based on state rules limits. The proposed limits are much higher than TAG recommendations (County Council Districts bigger than State Leg. Districts / There needs to be substantial public process-want council meetings not televised committee meetings / Also needs to be an ethical component-not able to give in the name of another)
  • The most competitive Council races cost ~$1,000 are costly
  • Would like to get it included in the County Charter

Cuyahoga County Clean Elections

  • Determined by council to be cost-prohibitive to tax payers
  • This would have to be voluntary
  • Even though this was dismissed as a non-option (due to cost) it should still be considered.

UPDATES: Contribution Limit Recommendations

  • Dave Greenspan, District One sponsored an ordinance suggesting the county mirror the state limitations: $12,000 limits on for individuals and PACs
  • The TAG suggested: $750 limits on council positions and $1,000 for executive and prosecutor

UPDATES: Electronic Campaign Finance Reporting

  • What are the limitations?
  • Call to action. It was suggested that submitted reports by candidates be placed on line immediately by the County rather than waiting until all amended reports are submitted

UPDATES: Citizen Experts

  • What should the process for determining limitations be?-Who should decide and how?
  • How much access do we want/need in order to make informed decisions?

3 Main Takeaways

  • It is important that people are given the opportunity to connect the dots. The database needs to be searchable and have the ability to cross-reference campaign contributions with expenditures.
  • How big do we want county to be and where do we want other entities to fit in (public boards, etc.)?
  • We need to make sure that the electronic reporting system is done right from the beginning-that includes making sure it is flexible and can support modifications/updates and that there are adequate resources dedicated to the project.

Next Steps

  • Things are pretty much already in-process
  • Several of the issue areas identified by the TAG, including electronic filing, lobbyist registration and contribution limits, either have already been addressed or are currently in the process of being addressed by County Council.
  • May be helpful to have something written into the county charter – could be part of the Charter Review process, as opposed to addressing provisions through ordinances (Needs to be strong public dialogue about this)
  • Become engaged in Council discussions on areas identified in TAG report. Council seems supportive of electronic filing in principle and has already incorporated many of the lobbyist registration provisions in their ethics ordinance. The current Council proposal on campaign limits, however, deviates substantially from the TAG report. Moreover, there does not seem to be interest in the public financing provision. Thus, if citizens desire to see the later 2 provisions enacted as proposed in the TAG report, there will need to be substantial advocacy.
 

Facilitators: Jason Russell, Jason Bristol

Three major takeaways

  1. Elected Officials – The new county government supports open government and the ideals of transparency. However, elected officials in attendance did not believe that an open government pledge is simply for elected officials. In a representative democracy, all participants are important to the process and all should commit to fostering an open and transparent system of government. The county government should work to institutionalize new media outlets. Examples include blogging about governmental activities and twitter posts regarding relevant events. It was the consensus of the group that identifying bloggers who blog in specific communities could enable the county to effectively communicate relevant information to specific communities.
  2. Citizens – Numerous opportunities for citizen participation currently exist, yet citizens are not availing themselves of these significant opportunities. Causes include a history of corruption, the timing and location of opportunities to participate are not convenient for working people, and information is often not contextualized or made relevant to specific populations. Citizens have an obligation to participate with their government, and better modes of communicating relevant information in a new era of transparency could improve participation. It was the consensus of the citizen participants that an open government pledge could go a long way to re-branding and/or rebuilding public faith in county government.
  3. Media – Traditional media should be held to high ethical standards and should share responsibility for reporting important and accurate information related to county government. Traditional media outlets should view information about the government as newsworthy and should include such information in their reporting on a regular basis. Examples include the publishing of agendas and meeting details, and crawlers relating to governmental activities.

Next Steps

  1. Draft Open Government Pledge that includes public officials, citizens, and the media.
  2. Connect county government with legitimate bloggers in order to better institutionalize new media and to push governmental activities into the public realm (especially positive ones).
  3. Schedule a follow-up meeting. Agenda will include: a) drafting the Open Government Pledge for our community; b) exploring further opportunities for citizens to aid the new government in communicating its activities in a usable format for all segments of the community.

Definitions
Open Government is the governing doctrine, which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight.

Open Government Pledge is a commitment by public officials, the media and citizens a like to uphold the open government doctrine.

Resources
Open Government Initiative: http://opengovernmentinitiative.org/
Goldwater Institute: http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/opengovernmentpledge
White House Open Government Initiative: http://www.whitehouse.gov/open
Open the Government: http://www.openthegovernment.org/