Does City's Tech Team Have the Resources to Implement Peduto's Data-Driven Approach?

Dec 5, 2013

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto and his team have repeatedly said they want to implement a data-driven approach to governance, but in Tuesday’s budget hearing, questions arose as to whether City Information Systems, or CIS, has the resources to provide the kind of data the future mayor will need.

CIS is responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including, but not limited to, network administration, website development and maintenance, software development, voice and data communications and operating the 311 response center.

Many of City Council’s concerns revolved around whether the city is able to offer enough money to keep talented people on staff.

Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic said in an informal salary study, he found that CIS employees made far less than comparable workers in the private sector.

“Most other positions throughout the city, finance positions and such, were paid in the public sector about 15-20 percent less,” Urbanic said. “However, when you go to computer systems, it averages anywhere from 35-100 percent.”

Acting Assistant CIS Director James Sloss confirmed Urbanic’s findings, saying that the department recently lost a top tier network analyst to the private sector, where that worker “doubled his salary.”

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak called Urbanic’s numbers “startling,” saying she was worried that the city is missing out on considerable talent coming out of local universities.

“We want to be able to be able to have that talent here,” Rudiak said. “When a kid graduating from Carnegie Mellon can get well over six figures working for private industry, and here it’s often times not even half of that, it’s really difficult.”

However, Matthew Barron, Councilman Peduto’s Policy Director, said he is confident that CIS has the resources needed to achieve the mayor-elect’s goals. Barron said Peduto wants to eliminate the assistant director position in CIS and add a position called analytics and strategy manager.

“We’re looking at that as a position that will really help us develop a performance management system in the city,” Barron said. “We can actually take data, present data, to all the department directors, do this publicly, and make decisions based on the data that we’re capturing in the city.”

Barron presented to Council several changes Peduto would like to make to Ravenstahl’s budget, one of which would eliminate five vacant CIS positions, freeing up some money to offer raises to analysts and programmers already working in the department.

Barron also said Peduto plans to implement an online tracking system for 311 complaints, similar to the way consumers can track packages and online purchases.

“If you log a 311 request or complaint, you can log onto your computer and see at what stage in the process that complaint is in,” Barron said. “Whether it’s sitting on someone’s desk at (the Bureau of Building Inspection) to look at, whether it’s been resolved, when it’s been resolved, who resolved it, what the contact information for that person is if you have follow up questions.”

Members of council praised CIS’s performance on a limited budget, and said it may be to move beyond simply maintaining important city departments like CIS.

Rudiak said it’s great that the city has been able to balance its budget year after year, but asked at what expense that balanced budget comes.

“It’s clear that roads aren’t getting paved. It’s clear that we need to hire folks in CIS and we need to pay them a commensurate salary,” Rudiak said. “We need to start thinking about how, not necessarily to survive as a city, but how to thrive.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposed 2014 budget calls for an additional $1.65 million in the CIS budget, a 14 percent increase over last year's expenditures. Most of the increase comes from the implementation of the Shot Spotter program and from salaries and wages.