The following is a letter that we sent to Cleveland City Council on April 27, 2020. As of this writing on May 19, 2020, the Cleveland City Council, which typically meets on a weekly basis on Monday evenings, has not met since March 23, 2020.
As our community comes together to respond to the growing threat of COVID-19, we applaud your action to provide updated public health information to protect our community. However, we understand that in a time of crisis, it is too easy to let commitments to transparency and accountability fall by the wayside. We are writing to express our hope that the City of Cleveland, and in particular its elected legislators, commits to maintaining and expanding transparency in government through the COVID-19 crisis.
We respectfully ask the following:
We ask that the City Council will act quickly to provide a virtual option for residents who wish to exercise their civic responsibilities without endangering their health. To this end, we respectfully ask that all meetings of the full City Council be streamed live, and a mechanism be developed for the public to provide comment in meetings that would ordinarily have a public comment function. We also ask that the City Council commit to making recordings of all livestreamed public city council meetings available in a public archive. That council hasn’t formally met as a group since March 23rd is disappointing and it can do better.
We are aware that the increasing virtualization of public forums under social distancing policies disadvantages people without reliable access to the internet at home. We hope that as the City Council debates its response to the crisis, it will continue to work to address our city’s ‘digital divide,’ including livestreams and recordings as discussed above, available to our neighbors who do not currently have reliable internet access.
As City Council’s decisions may have life-or-death consequences in this crisis, we believe that it is more important than ever for citizens to have access to legislative information and meetings so that they can be informed of upcoming legislative actions, and stay informed on decisions made on their behalf. Although the city’s current online legislative management offers access through Legistar (https://cityofcleveland.legistar.com), the City of Cleveland does not currently provide open API access to Council records through the Legistar API. Other US cities, including Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago, have opened their Legistar API for legislative information as a standard practice to promote transparency and accountability, enabling the public to create different tools to understand and share the city’s legislative updates through user-friendly websites like Councilmatic (http://councilmatic.org) or automated twitter accounts (https://twitter.com/chibillbot) that share legislative updates in residents’ social media feeds. Especially now that citizens are unable to participate in government in person during the COVID-19 crisis, we hope that our City Council will take all steps possible to make City Council records easy to access online. We respectfully request that the City of Cleveland enable the Legistar API for the City Council’s Legistar instance.
We understand that there are multiple competing priorities at hand in the response to this or any crisis, but we hope that the Cleveland City Council will share our concern that transparency and accessibility is not lost as we take drastic measures to protect public health. It is our hope that on this issue as well as many others, Cleveland emerges from the COVID-19 crisis not only healthy, but stronger for this experience.
As ever, please know that the technology community of Cleveland is full of talented professionals more than willing to donate their time and expertise as appropriate to assist in these efforts.
We are Open Cleveland, Cleveland’s Code For America brigade, a group of software programmers, designers, and concerned residents working to improve our local government and community through open civic data and technology. Learn more about us at https://opencleveland.org and what we’ve created like https://clevelandlots.org that enable Cleveland residents to apply for a sideyard expansion through an online application.
Thank you for your leadership on these issues, and we look forward to attending our City council meetings virtually soon.
© Open Cleveland 2020 | Pull requests welcome!