Before he announced his candidacy for mayor, Councilman Kevin Faulconer unexpectedly joined in a Twitter conversation about how to make San Diego more open, transparent and responsive to citizens.

VOSD member Ben Katz and I had been discussing the need to impose serious penalties on public officials who flout the California Public Records Act. I asked Faulconer and Council President Todd Gloria what sanctions they would be willing to support:

@ToddGloria @kevin_faulconer What penalties for noncompliance with the public records act are you willing to introduce?

— Joel Hoffmann (@JoelCHoffmann) August 30, 2013

Katie Keach, a spokesperson for Gloria, said she was researching open-government policies and acknowledged that the city could do better:

@omarpassons @joelchoffmann @toddgloria @kevin_faulconer Agreed. Lots of room for improvement. Will be a collaborative effort.

— Katie Keach (@KatieKSD) August 30, 2013

Faulconer did not respond directly to the question, but he asked an important one of his own:

@MeanestBossEver @joelchoffmann which cities are doing the best job with public records?

— Kevin Faulconer (@kevin_faulconer) August 30, 2013

As candidates for mayor of San Diego develop their platforms on key issues, the future of open government and open data in San Diego hangs in the balance. Faulconer and other candidates could learn a lot from some of the premier open-government and open-data cities around the country.

San Diego is the eighth largest U.S. city, but it lags behind smaller cities when it comes to open, responsive government. The University of Illinois-Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement ranked San Diego 17th of the 75 largest U.S. cities in a study released last year — New York and Seattle tied for first — and San Diego was not among the list of cities that host websiteswhere the public can download data sets on public-interest topics like crime, transportation and property taxes.

New York was also featured prominently in an Atlantic Cities post on the best open data releases of 2012 — it published an impressive batch of data on rat sightings, which remain a problem for cities with old pipes like New York. Philadelphia topped the list thanks to its release of crime data for the years 2006 to 2012. The project has earned the city an international award for excellence in mapping, and Philly continues to release new crime data regularly in a format that allows users to make their own maps with free programs like Google Fusion.

Open San Diego and Code for San Diego are trying to move San Diego in the direction those cities are headed. But progress has been slow since April, when Donna Frye, who served as director of open government under Mayor Bob Filner, abruptly resigned.

We may be stuck with the strong mayor system, and the flaws the Filner scandal has revealed, but the opportunity remains to reshape how San Diego informs and interacts with its citizens.

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Joel Hoffmann was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the...

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