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 Committee Report

Committee Report #1


In City Council September 16, 2013

Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair  
Councillor Marjorie C. Decker  
Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom  


Public meeting


To explore the development of an open data ordinance in the City of Cambridge.


Date and Time:  August 15, 2013 at 3:20 PM
Location:  Cambridge Innovation Center, One Broadway, Havana Room, 5th Floor



Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair, Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager, Vali Buland, Assistant City Solicitor, Sam Aylesworth, Assistant City Solicitor, Mary Hart, Chief Information Officer, Information Technology Department (ITD), Mike Dugas, Deputy Director, ITD, Jeff Amero, GIS Project Manager, ITD, Scott Hamilton, MIS Project Manager, ITD,  Rebecca Fuentes, Assistant Commissioner for Administration, Public Works, Pardis Saffari, Associate Planner, Economic Division, Community Development Department, Martha Flynn, Assistant Commissioner, Inspectional Services Department, Rebecca Rutenberg, Aide to Councillor Cheung and Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk.


Paul Tammaro, Nick Doiron, Curt Savoie, John Hawkinson, Saul Tannenbaum, Nadeem Mazen, Andrew Vitvilsly and Dazza Greenwood.


Councillor Cheung convened the meeting and stated the purpose. To begin the meeting, he wanted to hear any comments that the public might have about the most recent draft of the Open Data Ordinance (ATTACHMENT A). Following comment from the public, the City Administration will be able to provide their comments. He opened the floor for comments.

Paul Tammaro stated that he could not comment on the ordinance because he needed to read it. Subsequent to the meeting Mr. Tammaro submitted his comments (ATTACHMENT B).

Nick Doiron stated that the updated draft looks great.

John Hawkinson asked for clarification as to which of the draft ordinances is the most recent and to which they should be referring. Ms. Rutenberg explained that the 8/14/13 draft of the Open Draft Ordinance is the updated draft, and that the other draft provided was the initial ordinance prior to any editing (ATTACHMENT C). Mr. Hawkinson asked Councillor Cheung the process of editing and submitting the ordinance going forward. Councillor Cheung stated that this meeting is to assess the progress that has been made in the development of the ordinance and if another meeting is needed it will be held.

Saul Tannenbaum stated that the ordinance as written does not clearly establish a policy for open data going forward. The Open Data Review Board should not just be City staff, which needs to be included in the ordinance. The procurement section is weak, but could be strengthened by inserting system requirements that incentivize open systems throughout the procurement process and allow the City to spend slightly more to purchase software that allows for compliance with the ordinance. He understands the intent of protected data, but the definition needs fine tuning. For instance, listing protected data that is stored on a City-owned personal computing device could unintentionally serve as a "safe haven" for data that will not ultimately be released to the public.

Nadeem Mazen stated that thorough language and policy implementation is important. The implementation will be challenging and should be transparent. He wanted the Open Data Review Board to be comprised of elected officials, appointed members and volunteer technologists to keep the ordinance moving forward quickly.

Mr. Hawkinson stated that the definition of CSV should be comma separated value instead of character separated value. Councillor Cheung noted that the draft ordinance has been reviewed by the City Solicitor. Mr. Hawkinson stated that definition E of "Machine Readable" has the potential to exclude certain types of data. He asked why narrative text and meeting minutes were excluded. It is important for narrative data to be made available for research. Mr. Hawkinson stated that a narrative is embedded in the documents. Mr. Tannenbaum stated that narrative was accessible by a public records request. He questioned whether all police reports would be accessible on line or through a public records request. Mr. Mazen stated that he wanted the narrative in and clarified as a data type.

Mr. Hawkinson stated that under the definition of protected data (G.2), the ordinance should explicitly determine what a significant amount of data is. He commented that G.4 under the definition of protected data could be construed, although it was not the intent to have this data protected. He further commented on the definition of machine readable, noting that APIs are great, but we should not require them over flat data. Machine readable does not mean API. He suggested a structured format; this should not be requirement. A PDF of structured data is discouraged.

Mr. Tannenbaum suggested a better definition for machine readable and noted that PDF files of other structured data should be discouraged. He stated that as the City implements online services, they should be accessible except for protected data.

Curt Savoie stated that APIs are good for transactional data. This is an implementation discussion based on the data set to review the value.

Councillor Cheung stated that the Open Data Review Board would review the data.

Mr. Tannenbaum stated that it should be tested that if it poses a financial or administrative burden on the City to have a particular data set accessible, it should be balanced with the public interest. This is not in the ordinance. Mr. Hawkinson stated that 950 CMR32 should be referenced in definition F under Massachusetts Public Records law which is more helpful.

Councillor Cheung stated that he appreciated the comments and that the City is headed in the right direction. Cambridge does not have the same scale and financial situation as Boston and San Francisco do. He noted the importance of remembering that this is not a transparency ordinance; it is an open data ordinance. This is data that can be used by community. He asked for comments from the City Administration and staff.

Deputy City Manager Lisa Peterson stated that this has been reviewed and discussed to better understand open data and to try to achieve the goal. Boston's approach without an ordinance is practical, reassuring and presented a level of comfort, but there are privacy concerns. There are different data sets that can be released in a short period of time. The City's approach is to have a standard and policy in place. Having a title and purpose section is what the Open Data Review Board will use to evaluate the implementation process going forward. The legal policy was added and it is important.  Looking at the procurement piece, it is important to remember that there are things the City purchases that do not make sense to include open data as a purchase consideration. . Mr. Tannenbaum added that words like "shall" and "relevant" need to be in the ordinance. Mr. Tannenbaum stated that his ordinance draft of the open data review look at relevant open data.

Mr. Savoie stated that the issue of procurement is something that the City of Boston is grappling with, specifically in the realm of software procurement when a third party owns the data. He stated that contract language should be include outlining who owns the software, especially when the vendor changes. The City needs to maintain rights over the data. Mr. Hazen spoke about software identification by API. He favored that the data ownership should be the City. He spoke about corporate ownership of open data. Mr. Hawkinson stated that "services" should be drafted.

Councillor Cheung commented that more work needs to be done on the ordinance.

Ms. Hart stated that since the last meeting, the ITD has released   111 data sets. The City is looking at other data sets to figure out challenges and potential solutions. They have released these on a GitHub website. She asked Jeff Amero to provide additional information.

Jeff Amero stated that the main page for the GitHub is There are links to the GIS datasets, and this is where future data sets will be posted. There are over 100 GIS layers on the current site. He gave the GIS page address as Ms. Hart stated that data for Cambridge was current data and in a clean foresight. The files were converted to GeoJSON. Ms. Peterson stated that a place is needed on the City's website to look at the data and questioned what the site will be. Mr. Hawkinson commented do what is easiest for the City, and then add more later. This should not be overly burdensome. Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if the Egov Committee should oversee this. Ms. Peterson responded that the ordinance requires that there be an Open Data Review Board appointed by the City Manager. An interim Data Review Board is being looked at by the Egov Committee.

Councillor Cheung stated that the procurement comment is a good one. The goal is to get this through the City Council. If it costs a lot of money to implement an ordinance, it is difficult to get the ordinance passed. The City is heading toward more openness. This will be an educational conversation for the City Council.

Councillor Cheung commented on having a resident volunteer on the Open Data Review Board. Ms. Peterson stated that City Manager Rossi would be fine with this.

Dazza Greenwood stated that for a board to include a non-city representative is a good opportunity to think about people in the field who would give good feedback. Think about other cities and states where there is insufficient cooperation across governments. This would be a good win. Ms. Peterson stated that the city participates in regional committees. She stated that there could be a governmental representative, but it is not generally done. She agrees with the collaboration, but it is more educational. A smaller group for the board may be better.

Mr. Hawkinson asked if there is a rule about appointing Cambridge residents verses non-residents. Mr. Tannenbaum responded that the City ordinance is very general on appointments on boards and commissions appointed by the City Manager.

On protected database location, Councillor Cheung asked if there were any thoughts on G4 of protected data. Ms. Rutenberg stated that this was in ordinances passed by other cities. This will be given more consideration. Mr. Greenwood suggested another pass on the ordinance to tighten the language. He stated that what is missing is how the term protected tracks back to the other parts of the ordinance through procurement and vendors. Should there be a category of not totally open? Mr. Tannenbaum stated that this is a confidence builder, but the language needs work. Mr. Greenwood stated that this is awesome. Ms. Peterson acknowledged that there are entities in the City that may give more specificity based on cases. Mr. Savoie stated that this is why representatives from the City's legal department should be on the board.

Mr. Tannenbaum stated that it does not state that the purpose of the ordinance is that the data be open; this is not specific in the ordinance. He suggested language that it is the policy that data be open, except protected. Mr. Hawkinson stated that it should be more clearly defined. Mr. Tannenbaum stated that his draft stated it shall be the policy of the City to have open data. Ms. Peterson stated that Section 2.126.030 is entitled Open Data Accessibility. Mr. Tannenbaum suggested using words from the federal language.

Mr. Hawkinson asked relating to scanned copies of original documents - why is the prohibition there. Councillor Cheung stated that this will be clarified; we are trying to get away from PDFs. He questioned if there was discussion with other states as to what they enacted.

Councillor Cheung stated that the suggestions would be incorporated in the next draft of the ordinance and that the text would be circulated.

The next meeting will be held in early September.

Councillor Cheung thanked all attendees.


On motion of Councillor Cheung the meeting adjourned at 4:30 PM.

For the Committee,

Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair
Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee



View attached file


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