What if We Mimic the Detroit Water Project?

The Detroit Water Project empowers anyone in the world to pay delinquent water bills of Detroit residents. It uses the internet to pair strangers together. It’s like a Kickstarter campaign but rather than funding a project you’re directly helping a resident in need.

The Washington Post wrote about the project last fall — and I think its genius.

I think the concept should be mimicked on Plum Island. As most of my readers know, the barrier island received a record snowfall this winter. It wasn’t the total amount of snow that mattered but that we had blizzard after blizzard after blizzard in such a short amount of time. This caused streets across the city to be unplowed for weeks, intersections to be obstacles for cars turning corners, and PI residents to experience sewer backups. Because the exterior vacuum vents were covered in snow, air couldn’t move in the sewer pipes and the sewerage got backed up until it overflowed from where it came. Yuck.

I don’t know if and/or when and/or how much the mayor will ask the city council to pay PI bills. I’m aware that the city helped over 100 families stay in hotel rooms and that city staff and contractors worked 16+ hour days to fix the pipes and clear the vents.

I wonder if an internet tool such as the Detroit Water Project could be used here, telling the world about the city and the unique sewerage issues we experienced, and asking the world to help families get back on their feet. It’s great that local banks and philanthropic organizations are helping pay bills; but I hope I’m not alone in thinking that Newburyport shouldn’t pay its own bills. Similar to Kickstarter, let’s create a kick-ass online campaign and ask the citizens of the world to help out the citizens of Plum Island (and alleviate the limited pursestrings of Newburyport City Hall at the same time).

Data, Data, Data!

The state Division of Local Services circulated an email today to elected, appointed, and otherwise hired state and local government officials subscribed to their email alerts — with a request to complete a survey regarding the identification of unfunded mandates, onerous regulations, and bottlenecks in state government that inhibit the success of our cities and towns.

I graciously submitted my response which is about a huge bottleneck. If you know anything about me, it should be obvious how I responded.

DLS:

What changes can our Commonwealth make to state regulations, laws and mandates that will improve your ability to deliver quality services to your constituents in a more cost-effective manner?

ME:

Data, data, data!

On the first day of the Obama Administration, a White House blog was born with an express desire for federal agencies to be more transparent, participative, and collaborative. There has been some movement there — and in state/local government circles — but in my opinion, before the above happens, there needs to be a REASON for a resident to interact and that reason to me is data.

Last week, the GSA launched analytics.usa.gov as a counterpart to the preexisting data.gov site.

I don’t fault the Commonwealth for the information at mass.gov/informedma is a good start but it’s static and, for the most part, dated. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, even Amesbury, are creating their own statistical snapshots and making them publicly available on websites. This data is then used by elected and appointed officials “to deliver quality services” to constituents, residents, and business owners who are starving for government resources.

The number one change that can help me as an elected city councilor is for the state, and by trickle down theory, the city, to provide data. It doesn’t matter what the data is and it doesn’t matter what format it’s in. All that matters is it’s released, and the more the merrier, and smarter people than me will figure out how to hack the data and make it available in user-friendly ways.