Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Snow Stopper

In my day job, I work with open data and government transparency. Government officials aren’t always super enthusiastic about putting their data online. In 2014, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers surveyed its members to determine the three biggest barriers to open data were.

The most common answers were, in order:

  1. Agencies unwilling to open data. (53%)
  2. Poor-quality data unfit for public. (49%)
  3. No reliable funding for open data. (33%)

I can tell you a big concern for particularly meaningful information is also “could this be used to embarrass us?” Agencies don’t want to publish how long it takes them to respond to Freedom of Information Law requests, because they miss the statutory deadline often, and it might make them look bad. (You say “bad,” I say “criminally underfunded – seriously increase budgets for records access.”)

In Chicago, the answer is yes. The local paper has caught the city red-handed… plowing a street with an important Alderman’s house faster than some other streets where Aldermen(?) don’t live.

The stretch of West 51st Street is far from Chicago’s busiest road, carrying only two lanes of traffic and dead-ending before Pulaski and the CTA’s Orange Line tracks. Still, the 3900 block of 51st got lots of attention from city snow-removal crews during and after last weekend’s intense winter storm.

The plows pushed through the block as early as 6:48 a.m. on Sunday and again at 10:31 p.m. that day. They returned two times Monday and gave a fifth sweep on Tuesday morning, according to city Plow Tracker data gleaned by clearstreets.org.

You see, 51st is where you’ll find the 5,600-square-foot home of the City Council’s longest-serving and most-powerful member, Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Seriously, guys? Your government has one of the top municipal open data portals in the country, and you’re F5ing the snowplow tracker to keep your government honest? Really? We’ve settled all other issues of civic accountability and transparency? This is the last possible transgression against a perfectly democractic republic we have left?

Look, you don’t have to confine yourself to effusive praise for all Official State Data Sets, but this kind of inanity wastes everyone’s time. There are ways to be constructive about government open data, and ways to churn out pointless clickbait. This is just shameless.