(Photo by Joseph Gidjunis for the City of Philadelphia)
We were rooting around online for Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget documents last week and breathed a sign of relief when press secretary (and former KYW City Hall reporter) Mike Dunn tweeted them out.
— Mike Dunn (@MikeDunnPhilly) March 3, 2016
We liked how the budget docs were posted on alpha.phila.gov, the redesign-in-progress of the city’s website, which is easier and nicer to use than phila.gov.
But! They were PDFs.
PDFs are the scourge of the open-data set. Code for Philly’s Chris Alfano reminded us that last year, the Nutter administration made a big move by releasing budget documents in an open format. That is, not just PDFs, but files that people and machines can do something with. They also released a budget visualization. It was the first time a city administration had released open data about the city budget; it felt like progress.
— Chris Alfano (@themightychris) March 4, 2016
So, we wondered, why the backslide? Why only PDFs this time around? Especially since Kenney and incoming CIO Charlie Brennan have both been vocal about their support for open data. (“You should be able to see what people are paid,” Brennan told us in an interview in January.) Especially since there isn’t a whole new team in place — Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski is still at City Hall (Kenney likes to call him “the king of open data”).
We asked Wisniewski, who referred us to spokesman Dunn, who told us — in so many words — to hold our horses. This isn’t about a lack of commitment to transparency, he said. It’s about time. Give us a week, he said.
“The Kenney Administration put an entire operating budget, capital budget, and 5-year spending plan together in two months,” Dunn wrote in an email. “We are proud to be able to offer this material in an open data format within a week of its presentation to City Council.”
OK, horses held. But it is worth noting: the power of precedent is strong. Had the Nutter administration not released budget data in this way, it would be a lot harder to ask these questions of the Kenney administration.