Weatherford Democrat

February 8, 2013

Opening a window to government data

City of Weatherford program aims to provide citizens with greater access to public records, info


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRIAN SMITH

A new “warehouse for the city’s data” will give the public greater ease and speed when requesting many items from the City of Weatherford.

The program, entitled Socrata, is an open-data platform that many major cities such as Chicago and Seattle use to assist in getting information out, which will serve the city in helping to provide information on such things as open records requests, which have taken a large part of city staff time, according to Director of Management and Budget Chad Janicek.

As the city and surrounding area continue to grow, the number of open records requests have grown as well. The software was approved as part of the last budget process, according to Janicek.

Negotiations with the provider began late last year with testing starting in early December, Janicek said. It took city staff about four to six weeks to get acclimated with the software.

A “soft” launch was started in mid-January with the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter one of the first departments to use it.

In time, all departments will be able to put information in it. Janicek said this is not a short-term implementation with staff still undergoing training on how to use the program and what it can do, Janicek said.

Dustin Deel, interim director of the shelter,  said the goal is always for transparency in everything being done. “The software will help the Animal Shelter by increasing transparency and by getting information to the citizens more quickly,” Deel said. “We have already had very some positive feedback from the public and it has also been beneficial internally as well.”

Janicek said the program is a new method for interacting with citizens and admitted this is not a short term fix but a sustained way of getting information to the public in a quick, efficient manner while alleviating some of the time constraints on staff.

Using the link data.weatherfordtx.gov anyone can search and download items. Socrata allows datasets to be included directly into the city’s website.

Animal shelter information includes recent adoptions, what animals are presently at the shelter and even information as far back as 2007 is provided, including adoptions by date.

The city’s present budget is there as well as all permits issued since 2010 and even items such as fuel purchases by city employees, broken down by department. Electric, water and sewer billing can also be checked for payment and to see how much an individual was using.

“As (city staff) gets more comfortable with the website itself, more data will be placed on it,” Janicek said.