JACKSON Mayor Tony Yarber's favorite part of the new data portal opened to the public this morning is the live tracking of infrastructure construction projects, including pothole repair.
"You can look by project type, you can look and see by what ward you are in, and you can even look and see what stage each particular project is in," Yarber said.
"You are able to see what all the 1-percent stuff is doing, and this is the beginning," Yarber said, referring to the use of the 1-percent sales tax targeted to infrastructure. The information available at the moment was only "year one" data from the project that would be updated to include "year two" soon," Yarber said.
Yarber focused in on Medger Evers Boulevard and Hanging Moss Road projects, bringing up the descriptions of each that can be found on the site, data.jacksonms.gov.
The mayor used his fingers to select different parts of the large touch screen, elaborating on the importance of access to this information, during today's press conference. He emphasized that the data portal was the follow-up on campaign promises he made to culture an "environment of transparency."
"But also not just having transparency but creating an environment where the community, citizens, anybody around the world or around the country had an opportunity to interface with the City of Jackson," the mayor said. "And to do that in a way that actually told the story the way that the story should be told: using real data, using data to be able to influence how we get things done, using data to drive discussions, and at the end of the day using the data to improve the city."
"So that we are able to see what is happening inside the city, and terminology that we used was we said that we wanted to be able to decrease the gap between what we say that we are doing, and what we are actually getting done," he added.
The mayor said that during the campaign they began to first formulate a policy of openness and transparency, and he even mentioned a candidate interview with the Jackson Free Press where he discussed the need for an open-data policy.
"And my comment was that transparency is more than just talking about it, and that there had to be policies and procedures that actually made transparency happen," Yarber said.
The City has created a governance committee, made up of city officials and members of the community, that has created a list of 25 data sets that were most pressing for the public. These data sets have had priority for being integrated into the website. Public Works and police data are high priorities, along with an updated list of 311 hotline requests and follow-ups to those requests.
Justin Bruce, director of innovation and performance, explained that the data sets would continue to be updated. He said that at the moment about 25 percent of the data is automatically updated to the site, and the goal for him is to have 80 percent of the data from the City to be updated without human interference by the fall.
The data portal is the result of a partnership with the Bloomberg Philanthropies "What Works Cities" project, which facilitated cooperation between the City of Jackson and other organizations including the Sunlight Foundation and the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at [email protected]. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews and more about government transparency at jfp.ms/sunshine.
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