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County Announces Launch of Two New Open Government Initiatives

2016 Arlington County BoardArlington County is taking steps to make local government more open online.

The County Board on Tuesday approved a pilot program to webcast Planning Commission and Transportation Commission meetings, as well as certain County Board work sessions.

“The goal of the new program is to engage more residents in the civic process who are not able or choose not to attend meetings,” the county said in a press release. “The goal is to increase awareness of County issues and ease participation for a more broad and diverse audience.

Meetings held in the County Board room will be broadcast using existing audio-visual equipment that’s used to air Board meetings. If the pilot program is successful, the county may expand the scope to include meetings held in other locations around Arlington.

A start date for the webcasts is expected to be announced soon.

Public service issues mapIn a second initiative announced Tuesday, the county has launched a new “Open Data Portal” that includes various spreadsheets, charts and maps of government data.

Among the info currently offered by the portal is a map of pothole and other service requests (pictured), restaurant health inspection records, real estate sale records, a map of car share locations, and a police incident log.

Some of the data is a bit dated — the real estate sale records, for instance, are only for 2015, and as of this writing the most recent crime records are from Feb. 17. On the plus side, there are also new tools for filtering, sorting and exporting data, along with an open API that may prove useful for analysis and for web and mobile application developers.

“New datasets from the County’s departments will be made available in the months ahead based on popular user requests and available resources,” the press release notes.

“Technology continues to improve our ability to share data and streamline processes for a more interactive and inclusive government,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “We will continue to seek out and implement tools like the data portal and web streaming that help us improve access to government and create a better overall user experience for our residents.”

“Our residents are busy people who cannot always make it to the County Board Room to sit through hours of discussion,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “We want to make sure that they have another option – they can watch both Board work sessions and commission meetings on their computers, in the comfort of their homes, so that they can stay informed about important decisions that may affect their families and our community.”

“The County’s Open Government Program strives to achieve an open, accessible, efficient and transparent government,” said the press release. “The Open Data Portal and pilot webcast program are the latest efforts in serving and engaging the public more effectively.”

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