Civic

Jul. 10, 2013 12:30 pm

Councilman Brandon Scott: Baltimore open data has ‘a long way to go’ [Q&A]

Brandon Scott, the 29-year-old, first-term City Council member representing District 2, wants the city to "stop fighting positive change."

Brandon Scott, the 29-year-old, first-term City Council member whose 2nd district includes parts of Canton and Parkside, wants the city to “stop fighting positive change.”

“Here in Baltimore, we’re slow to change, while everyone else around us is evolving,” he said.

Scott said it’s the job of city government to be more open and transparent with city information, whether that comes in the form of revealing audits of city agencies, or crime statistics posted online, or City Council members connecting with constituents over social media (@CouncilmanBMS)

When Scott first started working at City Hall in 2007 as a staffer for then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, one of his jobs was to make sure city agencies were setting up social media accounts.

“I was the person that came up with all the agencies using e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and text message alerts,” he said.

For his part, Councilman Scott tries to pass out relevant information through social media: he’ll tweet out links to the latest Comstat crime data and his VLOG on YouTube. He’s active on his Facebook page.

Technically Baltimore spoke with Councilman Scott about what else Baltimore city government can do to be more transparent.

TB: How well do you think City Council embraces the concept of open government, of having city information readily available?

BMS: More and more of my colleagues are using social media. But for us, there’s only so much that we directly control. I know for me,  in addition to the crime data, I put out what’s going on in city hearings, the Board of Estimates, the Liquor Board, all that stuff. Not only do I post it to Twitter and Facebook, I e-mail it out to anybody on my e-mail list. But we want to get to the point where all of us are united in doing that. We’re doing a great job of sharing more data, but we still have a long way to go.

TB: And an example of that is the police department’s Comstat data, which has now been available online for a year now.

BMS: We have the Comstat data and the Part 1 crime data online for over a year now, and that’s great. When I started in city hall in 2007, the council president wasn’t allowed to see Comstat data, but now anyone in the city can see it. [While Comstat data was available before it started being posted online, it was available only by request.]

Baltimore city Councilman Brandon Scott, on the left, with State Sen. C. Anthony Muse and Baltimore city Councilman Nick Mosby.

TB: What about regular auditing of city agencies? Isn’t that a way to make sure residents are aware of what the city government is doing by seeing how city government is spending money? What’s the next step there?

BMS: Well, it’s already going to happen. The citizens voted during the last election. [Every four years, 13 city agencies will be audited, per the charter amendment passed in the November 2012 elections.] Once we have those audits start to happen, I know that if I get my hands on them they will be shared with everyone. I just ask that we’re able to share the information online or publicly.

TB: So City Council’s role is to just share the information, or push city agencies to publish that information?

BMS: City Council, what we can do, is be that extra push. That’s what the agencies need. They need someone to champion it for them.

TB: Do follow the startup community in the city? And what can the city do to reduce property taxes to make sure that good, early-stage companies stick around?

BMS: Somewhat, somewhat. But there’s just so much stuff going on. But I’m always willing to sit down and talk with folks about anything in particular innovative ways they think we can deal with the property tax issue. 

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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