Since we launched a year-and-a-half ago, we’ve not only watched, but followed as closely as we could City of Philadelphia technology policy.
Even in our short tenure covering all that is involved — like municipal information technology, government transparency, citywide broadband network infrastructure, economic policy and much, much more — we’ve been witness to a city intent on finding new ways of utilizing technology and finding better ways of connecting with citizens.
Throughout, we’ve heard repeatedly from leaders that Mayor Michael Nutter understands the value of technology in city government and he is intent on involving Philadelphia’s technology community.
Though we write about these initiatives weekly, nothing was more of a reminder of the Mayor’s commitment to technology than when Nutter announced a $120 million capital investment in the Division of Technology during the pageantry of his budget address to City Council in March.
And with his support, DOT has been steered in a new direction, a Chief Technology Officer appointed to the mayoral cabinet, pilot programs created to attract technology businesses and broadband stimulus dollars and gigabit broadband chased.
So, we had to get the man on the phone to talk tech. Yesterday, we spoke with Mayor Nutter about government transparency, Philadelphia’s tax structure, and about his call to action to Philadelphia’s technology community. Our Q&A with Philadelphia’s Mayor after the jump.
All of our 15,000 readers are smart technologists and business leaders in Philadelphia who know intricately the world of technology. They’re here because they love the city. What can these folks—all these great software developers interested and active in open source and community—do to help you? What’s your call to action for Philadelphia’s technology community?
City government at an unprecedented level will be making upwards of $120 million in IT investment over the next few years. Some of that transformation has already started with the upcoming capital budget.
We were making investments, changes and upgrades almost from the time we arrived two-and-a-half years ago. We look at this from a historical perspective. The first real computer was created right here in Philadelphia—the ENIAC. Philadelphia has been a leader in technology and computing systems for a long period of time. We use that as an inspiration, a platform to take ourselves to the next level.
While making the investment, having an actively engaged IT community is very important. We start with premise that we don’t necessary know everything or have all the answers and we want to rely on this community for ideas.
Making the investment is good business. It can make Philadelphia government more productive and we think that Philadelphia technology is important to many of the challenges we will face.
You campaigned three years ago on being the transparent, good government candidate. There’s an increasing conversation about the Web being a tool for creating better government transparency. Where have the two come together during the course of your administration? Have you felt that your administration has achieved that transparency using technology or on the Web?
I believe we have. I’d like to mention to readers, even before I was elected mayor, when I was a member of City Council, I pushed through legislation that all professional service contracts be placed on the city’s website. Before that, there was no central place where all those contracts were. Now there is—all those contracts are now up. We provide a ton of information on the city’s website and various department websites. We want people to know what’s going on in city government. It helps ensure that openess and transparency, which are crucial to well-run government.
You changed the role of Chief Technology Officer to a cabinet level position. What is the biggest change to your administration’s agenda because of that organizational shift? Or more simply, what do you and city CTO Allan Frank talk about?
Having the Chief Technology Officer in the cabinet raises not only the level of importance of the Division of Technology but also allows us to hear about challenges, problems and successes much earlier on in the process. Allan [Frank] works directly with department heads — the managing director, deputy mayor, chief of staff — on a regular basis. They can identify challenges and get answers much quicker, raise these issues and have a dialogue that goes back and forth. We talk about his ideas and proposals and what his needs are, what his challenges are and if we’re not getting coordination. Day-to-day, he’s in charge of his shop and he has a responsibility and authority to run his shop. Making the shift to consolidate IT folks in one division was a big issue and I was actively involved to make that change.
What’s one technology initiative you’d most like to pursue in the remainder of your first term?
There are too many things to focus on and to do, and I’m reluctant to pick one because they are all very important. In this business, you can’t focus on one thing. An overall goal is to significantly upgrade the technology system. Virtually every agency needs some assistance to help them do their job and they all need significant support from DOT. In many instances this will help us deliver services better, quicker or cheaper. It helps us to save money.
One of the things I’m focused on is the public computer center project which has direct impact out in the community; 77 sites that will have enhanced or newly created services which will work with some of our high-risk populations. People need access to the ‘net. We need to make sure as a city government that we’re providing some of those opportunities. While we’re making sure that our own internal infrastructure works well, we want to enhance services that real Philadelphians can utilize and improve their lives as a result of the network we’ve created.
Philadelphia’s tax structure is constantly on the minds of entrepreneurs in our local creative economy. The process to rollback the city’s business privledge tax and wage tax was started, but was halted because of the economy. What are other initiatives that your administration has developed or hopes to develop to aide these small businesses?
In my budget address, I announced two pilot programs. One is market-based sourcing, doing a pilot related to firms engaged with computer systems design and related services. We’re changing some of the tax regulations based on location of the customer rather than the work that was performed. These companies can be anywhere, so we’re trying to level the playing field. Now, [taxes are] only related to work they do in Philadelphia, not for the work that’s done outside. The second is single sales factor apportionment. Related again to the allocation formula for taxes on organizations involved in research and development in physical engineering and life sciences. We base calculations only on Philadelphia sales as opposed to on sales, property and payroll, which puts them on the same page as firms that are located outside of the city. These allow us captailize on some of the other great assets that Philadelphia has that some other locations may not have.
We host meetups with small business owners in Philadelphia who are creating white collar jobs. At one of the events recently, we debated with a few asking whether or not it’s good enough to have a business in the region, or if there’s some cache to being in the city. All that said, in the beginning of your term, you were very boisterous about being pro-region. Is it true that having business in the region is enough, or as Mayor is there a goal to retain talent in the city?
My job as mayor is to increase business in Philadelphia first and foremost. I actively and aggressively promote business retention and retraction. But if for some reason a company can’t make the decision to be in Philadelphia, my second position is that at least they are in the region. A company that is based in Montgomery County is still benefiting the region and a Philadelphian still has a chance at getting that position. My primary focus is on increasing the total number of businesses in the borders of Philadelphia, but I do understand that we might not be able to get every firm.
It was reported there was a fake Mayor Nutter Twitter account. What would it take to make that real?
[Laughing] I did hear about fake account. The city has a Twitter account, but it’s certainly something I’m taking a look at.
Well, we can promise 15,000 followers if you jump on board tomorrow.
I’ll factor that into consideration.