Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for February, 2010

“Can City Apps Bring Transparent Data To Jersey City’s Citizens?”

by Administrator February 26th, 2010

By Ron Callari

Technological advances are affecting how citizens are interacting with their city governments, as transparency, efficiency and cost-savings become the guiding principles in municipalities today. As more and more cities open their data to the public, tech-savvy individuals and companies are creating APIs (application programming interfaces) to provide Web 2.0 solutions for a variety of city issues. How might this technological development help Jersey City’s citizens better access and understand their government, all while saving the city money?

In its simplest form, a City API or app can be a descriptive list of a set of functions that are included in a government database and address a specific problem. For example, in a city with a traffic-light problem, a resident might typically call the public works or transportation department. Those calls take time and cost money when addressed by staff members you reach by phone. But with an API, a city could permit its residents to upload photos or videos of specific traffic light issues, vote on which ones should be addressed with urgency and view progress updates over time, for free. This could be done from smartphones with stand-alone apps or directed to a specific website for public perusal.

Read full article <a href=”http://www.jerseycityindependent.com/2010/02/19/can-city-apps-provide-jersey-city-with-access-to-transparent-data/”>here</a>.

Public Forum On Improved Internet Access, Service In Southeast Seattle

by Administrator February 25th, 2010

Hidmo Community Empowerment Project, Reclaim the Media and the Northwest Media Action Grassroots Network present Let’s Get Connected: Internet and Social Justice in Central and South Seattle, a community forum on winning better, faster, and more affordable Internet access in the historically underserved neighborhoods of the Central District and Beacon Hill. The event takes place Weds. March 3, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Garfield Community Center on 2323 E. Cherry Street, Seattle.

Mayor Mike McGinn was elected in part based on his proposal to connect all Seattle homes and businesses with next-generation fiber-optic Internet service–providing affordability, customer choice, and speeds many times faster than what is currently available to many in Seattle’s underserved neighborhoods of the Central District and Beacon Hill. Between the FCC’s recent call for gigabit-speed Internet, Google’s announcement of fiber-broadband test projects, and Federal broadband stimulus funds, it appears that 2010 could be a big year for Internet access in the US. How will the changes be felt in Seattle?

Participants in the March 3 “Let’s Get Connected” event will be invited to share their own experiences with local Internet access, while community media producers document their stories on audio and video. Featured guest speakers will discuss the history of telecommunications access in central and South Seattle, present-day challenges for fair, affordable access, and ways the City can respond to public outcry for digital justice.

“The neighborhoods of Central and South Seattle have been sidelined in technology access for too long,” said Reclaim the Media director Jonathan Lawson. “Achieving real digital justice means that everyone, regardless of income or zip code, should have equal opportunities to connect, create and innovate, through networks that provide affordability, universal access and gigabit speed.”

Let’s Get Connected is the sixth in a series of community forums sponsored by the Hidmo Community Empowerment Project; it is also the first in a series of public forums on broadband Reclaim the Media plans as part of its Seattle Digital Justice campaign. The forum intends to bring together a variety of community members and civic leaders for productive discussions on an issue of present importance.

Child care and refreshments will be available (please make childcare reservations by Feb 25).

This event is sponsored by the Hidmo Community Empowerment Project, Reclaim the Media, the Seattle Digital Justice Coalition and the NW Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), with support from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Parks and Recreation. More info: jason@hidmo.org or 206.328.7088.

“‘Will Of The People’ Often Subject To Tinkering”

by Administrator February 25th, 2010

By Jim Brunner
Seattle Times political reporter

OLYMPIA — As Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill clearing the way for tax increases Wednesday, the outcry was strong, just as it has been for the past several weeks as the measure inched through the Legislature.

“Can’t you at least put up a facade that you are paying attention to what the voters are saying?” said Tim Eyman, sponsor of Initiative 960, after watching Gregoire sign the bill suspending for a year the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a public vote for any tax increase.

At times, the rhetoric from I-960 supporters has been incredulous and angry, as though voter-approved initiatives were sacred texts, never to be rewritten.

One Republican compared the Legislature’s actions to a “total solar eclipse.” Protesters have gathered on the Capitol steps and some lawmakers have received threatening e-mails, including one suggesting those who vote to overturn I-960 “should be hanged from the neck until dead.”

But this is hardly the first time lawmakers have gone against the “will of the people” as expressed by initiatives.

In the past decade, state lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – have poked holes in voter-approved initiatives that restrained state spending, gave automatic raises to teachers and demanded more money for public schools, among others.

Some of those measures won by much wider margins than I-960, which was approved by 51 percent of voters in 2007.

“The people who complain about this always pick and choose which initiatives they are complaining about,” said Hugh Spitzer, an affiliate professor at the University of Washington Law School and co-author of a book on the state constitution, which lays out a balance of power between the public at large and elected officials.

The state constitution says the initiative process is “the first power reserved by the people,” yet it allows the Legislature to rewrite any initiative with a two-thirds vote in the first two years. After that, it takes only a simple majority.

It wasn’t always that way. Before a 1952 amendment, the constitution said the Legislature couldn’t make any changes to initiatives for two years.

Curiously, given the strong feelings about initiatives today, the 1952 amendment was easily approved by voters. Judging from news coverage, it was scarcely controversial. An initiative legalizing the sale of yellow margarine – over the vehement protests of dairy farmers – proved far more divisive.

Since then, lawmakers have amended or repealed at least 30 voter-approved initiatives, according to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office.

In the past decade, it’s frequently been Democrats agitating against a series of tax limits implemented by voter initiatives, such as I-960. But Republicans have played a role, too.

In 2000, the Legislature punched a big hole in Initiative 601, a 1993 measure that created a strict state spending cap. Basically, lawmakers decided to use budgetary shifts to get around the I-601 limit. The bill to make that possible received crucial support from GOP leaders in the state House, which at the time was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Supporters and opponents of I-960 have spent a lot of time arguing about whether it should be given any more deference than the many others that have been watered down or repealed over the years.

Democrats like to point to Initiatives 728 and 732, both approved by big margins in 2000. Those initiatives demanded that the Legislature grant automatic cost-of-living raises to teachers and dedicate money to reduce class sizes in public schools.

Yet the Legislature suspended those requirements in lean times, and budget writers plan to do so again this year.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said he’s heard a lot of angry talk from Republicans about I-960’s suspension, yet “I didn’t hear that outrage” when the Legislature backed off the education initiatives.

Republicans argue there are some big differences between those measures and I-960.

The education initiatives gave no new funding to the state even though they required hundreds of millions a year in additional spending on schools. The voters-pamphlet statement on I-728 boasted that it could be funded “without raising taxes or taking money away from other programs.”

When a 2004 initiative proposed raising the state sales tax by a penny to pay for better schools, voters overwhelmingly rejected it.

Meanwhile, voters have endorsed I-960’s main provision — the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax increases — three times since 1993.

“It should be hard to go against the will of the people. It shouldn’t be an easy thing,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

Orcutt noted that I-960 provides an “out” for legislators if they can’t get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for tax increases. They can send any proposed taxes to the ballot for voters to approve. Democrats have ruled that out.

In signing the bill suspending I-960 on Wednesday, Gregoire noted that voters had approved the measure before the current economic crisis.

“They did it in a time when we weren’t facing the greatest recession in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said. The bill suspends the initiative until July 2011.

Eyman who stood just behind Gregoire during the bill-signing ceremony, made a thumbs-down gesture and held his nose for the cameras. He’s already filed a new initiative to restore the two-thirds requirement for tax increases.

While he’d expected lawmakers to throw out I-960’s restrictions on tax votes, Eyman said he was shocked they also axed “transparency” requirements, including advisory votes on any tax increases approved by the Legislature and a requirement that the names of lawmakers voting for tax increases be printed in voters pamphlets.

Gregoire said those provisions were of questionable worth and printing the information in the pamphlets would be costly.

Spitzer, the UW law professor, said initiatives place unrealistic demands on the Legislature, and it makes sense that lawmakers frequently need to revisit them.

“I have a simple solution: Every initiative which institutes a new program must provide a tax source. Every initiative that cuts taxes must specify in detail which programs would be cut,” Spitzer said.

That’s unlikely to happen.

But the public this fall may get to judge the Legislature’s actions twice. Voters could be voting on Eyman’s latest initiative, assuming it qualifies for the ballot. And voters will get a chance to reshape the Legislature, with the entire state House up for election.

Jim Brunner: 360-236-8267 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com