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Boston's CIO Caught Between Politics And Transparency

A Boston councilman wants more details about city business posted on its Web site, but a 1947 law says such details can appear only in the paper-based City Record. Stuck in the middle is Boston's CIO, who's installing 21st-century tools but lacks authority to decide what information gets published. And you thought your office politics were ugly.
A Boston councilman wants more details about city business posted on its Web site, but a 1947 law says such details can appear only in the paper-based City Record. Stuck in the middle is Boston's CIO, who's installing 21st-century tools but lacks authority to decide what information gets published. And you thought your office politics were ugly.Boston CIO William Oates told boston.com that while his team has been upgrading the city's content-management system, it's still the individual departments that determine what details do -- and don't -- get released for public consumption. Caught in that untenable position, Oates appears to be doing his best to get the mechanisms in place to allow taxpayers eventually to see how their money is being spent by anonymous bureaucrats with zero accountability. But as the article explains, while Oates can install the plumbing, he can't control what gets pumped through it:


The $200,000 effort will allow departments to post more information at a faster clip and will help them track items that haven't been updated in a while, so information doesn't get stale. "It gives us a better capability of getting more on there and keeping it fresh" while eliminating data bottlenecks, Oates said.

Well, give Oates credit for putting a brave face on it: While city departments might continue to hide what's going on from Boston citizens, at least they'll be able to do it with fewer "data bottlenecks," whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the councilman who's trying to increase transparency, Sam Yoon, said it's "ridiculous" that Bostonians can't go online to find identities of members of "about 30 city boards and committees, such as the liquor licensing board, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and the School Committee; see the length of appointment terms; or view meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes," according to the story yesterday on boston.com, which is The Boston Globe's Web site.

For such a great city, that's a sorry story. On the flip side, anybody out there live in a city that's doing a great job at offering transparency for its citizens? C'mon, brag about it a little -- let me know.

And Mr. Oates, the best of luck to you as you attempt to let some much-needed fresh air and sunshine into your city's business. Let's hope that eventually, since you've built it, they will come -- even if kicking and screaming.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer