City's new Web site promotes government transparency

bfortune@herald-leader.comNovember 9, 2012 

Curious how your Urban County Council representative voted on a particular ordinance? You can easily find that information and a lot more on a new Web site dedicated to putting reams of city data on-line, accessible to everyone.

Mayor Jim Gray announced the Data Transparency initiative at a news conference Friday.

The city is essentially raising the hood on city hall, making a variety of raw data files available including the 2013 budget and police crime maps and analysis.

The goal is to make information available so citizens get a clearer picture of how Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government conducts business, Gray said.

The Data Transparency page invites citizens to do a data dive: "Tell us what's wrong, what's right, how we can improve. Hold us accountable."

The Web site launched Thursday night. Data Transparency is listed on the LFUCG home page, Lexingtonky.gov.

Gray credited Urban County Council member Doug Martin with the idea for the portal. Martin sponsored a resolution saying the city needed to start working with the community to put its data out there for people to see.

The Web site has easily accessible information that does not require a person to be a computer whiz, said Derek Paulsen, Commissioner of Planning.

In addition to the budget and crime maps, the site gives access to the city's code of ordinances, archived GTV-3 programs and Legistar, where citizens to can track local ordinances and resolutions. Legistar also shows how council members voted or various ordinances.

In the next two months, the city will launch a geographic information system application with better access to information about Lexington's streets, zoning ordinances and aerial photography.

The page will eventually have information on code enforcement violations, building inspection complaints and reports and call-data from LexCall at 311. The information will be in both a raw format and in reports.

In the future, to access some raw data files could require specialized tools or software to see, analyze or manipulate.

Making data available in raw form is designed to allow citizens to conduct their own analysis or even create their own applications, Paulsen said. The city hopes to work with local groups to create apps for citizens to use so they can better understand the "when, where, what of issues."

David O'Neill, Fayette County Property Valuation Administrator, was among those who were at Friday's news conference. O'Neill said he has made transparency and open data a priority since taking office in 2009.

"Every expense of our office, every check I write is on the PVA Web site," he said.

Also, every piece of property in Fayette County is on the Web site with a picture and sales history, O'Neill said.

The project to make city data widely accessible to residents dovetails with CitizenLex.org, an idea Lexington submitted in the nationwide Bloomberg Mayor's Challenge, a competition created to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. Lexington was recently named one of the contest's 20 finalists.

CitizenLex.org is envisioned as a computer platform designed to encourage citizen ideas and input on city problem solving and planning.

Gray called the Data Transparency page a place where citizens can dig for information to uncover problems and come up with solutions for CitizenLex.

Chad Cottle, director of enterprise information technology solutions, said making data available puts Lexington on par with much larger cities — such as Austin, San Francisco and Chicago — that have started similar initiatives.

"The city is data rich, but we've never really put it out there," he said. "This shows people where their money is going and how it's being used."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010

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