Testimony at NYC Council Public hearing on DoITT Open Data


Note: The NY City Council held a hearing to get comments from the public on the first anniversary of the new Local 11, 2012 Open Data law, a law ‘championed’ by Mayor Bloomberg to have a centralized website for all city agencies to publish their activities, rules etc.  The purpose is “transparency” in NY city government. Well, if you believe that Mr. Bloomberg and our city agencies are interested in “transparency”, good for you.

From something which probably was conceived to create profit,  something very positive can be achieved. To create ‘jobs’ (a benefit of this ‘initiative’  claimed by the mayor) somebody has to get a contract to do the IT of this law, in other words, somebody is getting a huge profit from the city, which is the essence of ‘doing business as usual with the City’. Without implying impropriety, the mayor’s business is precisely information technology   and media, so he knows what it takes for doing business here.

But the “people” can turn this around and make this law a power tool for the regular citizens of this city.

That’s what those who testified yesterday are doing. It was an impressive hearing. My salute to Council members Mrs. Brewer and Mr. Cabrera for helping steering this ‘initiative’ the right (shall I say ‘progressive’) way. And to all those (young!) experts on digital, computing and information technology for the outstanding, let me repeat it, OUTSTANDING work they are doing to turn this fictional ‘transparency’ effort into a real transparency tool.

Information is power, go get it boys and girls.

As usual, I was  the one testifying with the least experience or knowledge  about the issue. What follows was my testimony.

Testimony presented by Lourdes Cintron for The Citywide Mental Health Project

New York City Council

                            Public Hearing on Oversight:

DoITT’s Administration of New York City’s Open Data

                                             November 20, 2013

Good afternoon. My name is Lourdes Cintron, the founder of The Citywide Mental Health Project, a grassroots group of recipients of mental health services, their friends and relatives striving to empower consumers to learn to monitor the quality of services they receive in their community mental health programs, among other goals.

We appreciate this opportunity you grant us to contribute our feedback on the topic of the NY City’s Open Data ‘initiative’. There is no data on mental health issues.

 

Technical aspects:

The website is confusing and, in my view, (as it is now) useless for the purpose stated in the law. For example:

a)       The icons for selecting data-format presentation are not ‘user friendly’, meaning they are ‘not enjoyable’. It requires high levels of computer and research skills to figure out which one to select, and once selected, the format is still confusing. I could not use it, even though I do have computer skills.

b)       As it is now, most of the members in my group do not have the skills to navigate this website’s graphical user interfaces if they needed to access the information supposedly available.  This website was designed for researchers, not for the general public.

Transparency issues:

Searching in the “Data catalog” box for mental health data is an exercise in futility. The search for either “mental health’ or “department of health and mental hygiene” gives you, both of them, “NYC’s famous Baby names” and “food vendors without permit”

Also, a search on “311” shows not a single call requesting information about mental health services or a single incident related to it. Almost all 311 reports since 2010 are related to vermin and rats. A researcher could easily conclude that rat infestation has no impact in the city’s mental health. This could matter for policy and budget purposes.

Finally, how is transparency achieved by publishing the names and addresses of citizens who committed minor infractions, e.g. names street vendors without permit, but neglecting to publish the names of big companies CEOs who have defrauded the city in the millions of dollars, like Mark Mazer’s of City Times, for example?

If ‘transparency’ is going to be dependent on reported meaningless data, and if (quoting from the law) “the city does not warrant” the “completeness, accuracy, content or fitness for any particular purpose” of the data published, then this new law is nothing but a…let me just call it a mistake.

Let’s be realistic: there has been not a single government agency in this nation history which welcomes ‘transparency’, especially since 9/11. This website, as it is now, is the latest addition to that historical fact.

Thank you for your attention.

Respectfully,

Lourdes Cintron

Citywide Mental Health Project

Email: citywidementalhealthproject@live.com

Phone: 718-561-8415

Address: 480 East 188th Street, Apt. 7M

Bronx, New York 10458

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