Raleigh is talking the talk and walking the open-source walk. In a 6-to-2 vote, city councilors agreed Tuesday to provide $50,000 annually for an open-source data catalog.
The funding will be included in next year’s budget, which will be presented by City Manager Russell Allen next month. Councilor and Technology and Communication Committee Chair Bonner Gaylord, who originally proposed the idea, said the catalog is a necessary step for a more open and transparent government.
City data will be digitally published and made ready for use by city residents, software developers or news outlets. Data can be viewed in a raw form or downloaded so that it could be turned into graphic visualizations, such as maps or graphs. Data could also be embedded into software, like smart phone applications.
On the city’s end, publishing data online could defer public records requests managed by staff.
Allen said his main concern is the ongoing cost of the project, which until Tuesday was not included in budget calculations. He added that there are also issues with ongoing staff costs. There is no intention to hire additional Information Technology staff, which means uploading and maintaining the data will add more responsibilities to current employees.
He said his only argument is the timing of the request; he suggested councilors wait until they have seen the budget and include it in their budget discussions.
Councilor Eugene Weeks agreed that it shouldn’t be included in the budget but discussed as a budget note.
Gaylord said that if the city wishes to move forward with being called an open-source city, then councilors must consider this request as a budget priority.
Councilors Weeks and Thomas Crowder voted against the motion to make the open-data initiative a budget priority.
“I think we should set our priorities first and then manipulate what we feel are our priorities rather than allowing other priorities to supersede those and then we get to fight it out amongst ourselves during the budget session,” Gaylord said.
Crowder said if the city wants to be truly transparent, then the entire budget should be looked at line by line. Crowder said he doesn’t mind discussing this as an item or if it’s included in the budget, “as long as everything is open to scrutiny and review.”
Normally fiscally conservative Councilor John Odom supported the initiative, saying that if the city is going to be a global market then this is a step in that direction.
Odom, Crowder and Mary-Ann Baldwin, expressed some concerns that the move toward open government is happening in pieces rather than seeing a whole plan in place.
Chief Information Officer Gail Roper said her staff has a preliminary timeline of about two to three months for data to be released. But one of the main priorities would be hearing from the public as to what data the community wants readily available.