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Politics & Government

City Council Hears Open Data Ordinance Testimony

Pittsburghers might get the opportunity to know a lot more about city government.

City Council heard testimony Thursday on Natalia Rudiak’s legislation to establish an open data ordinance for the city of Pittsburgh.

The ordinance would make information available online to the public -- ranging from city services to infrastructure.

Matt Barron, Mayor Bill Peduto’s Policy Manager, said staff members in city government don’t currently have access to a lot of data, and it makes their jobs difficult.

“This is going to streamline everything that we have access to and how we get it,” Barron said. “It’s also going to allow us to begin to put in place a real performance management system that the mayor believes is critically important to the future success of the city.”

Bob Gradeck, from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, added that the open data wouldn’t only benefit city government.

“Don’t just think about people that have computers and can use computers, it’s all the groups that work on their behalf as well that are going to benefit from this - people that read the newspaper, students at the university,” Gradeck said. “So it’s really important to put this out, doing it the right way, but it’s going to take investment, the data systems are going to need some work, but this is a great point to start and it’s a great time to be doing it.”

Barron said the ordinance’s goal is to vastly reduce the number of requests from the Right to Know law, which requires government agencies to disclose information to the public if requested.

Rebecca Williams, a policy analyst from the Sunlight Foundation, said the Right to Know law is decades old and has exemptions built into it to protect people.

She said the open data ordinance would give the public the information they need without the hassle that comes with that outdated law.

“Having a policy in place, legislation in place, that reinforces timelines, and updates, and the inventory process so that you know what data you have to begin with and then try to organize that and clean it up in terms of what you can publicly release safely is so important,” Williams said.

As reported by 90.5 WESA in an earlier story, Peduto estimated the ordinance to cost $100,000 in personnel costs.