In what he called an act of “abundant” caution, City Controller candidate Brett Mandel removed specific city employee salary information from the city budget visualization tool he released last month. Someone pointed out that the availability of that data raised safety concerns, Mandel said, and he decided to err of the side of caution. While the tool still shows users how much a city department spends on personnel, it no longer provides a breakdown by employee. (Other city governments, like Chicago, do share their employee title and salary totals.)
Since its launch, more than 15,000 users have visited the site, Mandel reported via Twitter, but the tool’s reach has expanded past Philadelphia: President Barack Obama‘s former Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, has expressed interest in using a similar data visualization as part of his campaign for Lt. Governor of Virginia, said developer Ben Garvey, who built the tool.
The tool has even made it to Italy, where a team of developers used the platform to show Italy’s 2011 budget.
It’s worth pointing out that these steps forward and backward with the release of data — think also about how L&I second-guessed its release of gun permit rejections — show how communities are still jockeying for what is acceptable and what is off limits. It’s also interesting to think how a political candidate — like Mandel — might handle pushback on a data release differently than, say, a city government, a news organization or research nonprofit. (This data is publicly available, but the visualization and accessibility of it is what has spooked Mandel.)
The open gov movement is still a young one, after all.