March 9 2011 12:00 AM

Got app questions? I got answers

So, it appears CityBeat isn't the only one whose questions about Carl DeMaio's proposed smartphone app have gone unanswered. Reader George Janczyn posted, in response to my article on the app, question he's sent to DeMaio's office that, so far, have gone unanswered.

(Quick background: DeMaio's allocated $9,900 from his council-office budget for an app that allows users with camera-equipped smartphones to shoot a photo of a pothole, graffiti or broken streetlamp. The app geo-tags the photo, making it easier for city workers to locate the problem. Mayor Jerry Sanders' office, though, has been working on developing an app with additional features at a low cost, or no cost, to the city.)

Here are his questions and my best attempt to answer them:

Which city departments will be involved and how is that being coordinated?

Since DeMaio's office wouldn't respond and CitySourced's press contact didn't reply to my emails (phone calls to the company were routed to a general voice-mail box), I can only guess the app's going to work like ones CitySourced created for San Jose City Councilmember Pete Constant and L.A. City Councilmember Eric Garcetti, where requests for service first go to the council member's office and are then routed to the appropriate city department. If the app were to sync up with the city's computer system-without DeMaio getting the mayor's approval-this could raise legal issues. According to the City Charter, "individual members of Council shall deal with the administrative service for which the Mayor is responsible only through the Mayor, the City Manager, or the Mayor's designees." The Mayor's office says DeMaio's didn't consult with them prior to announcing the app.

What kind of workflow adjustments will city departments have to undergo to accommodate new procedures?

No one knows. Alex Roth, a spokesperson for Mayor Jerry Sanders, talked to departments that would take these sorts of complaints. They told him that DeMaio hadn't contacted them.

Will this new system result in additional training expense and administrative time by staff in city departments?

For now, it appears that DeMaio's footing the bill-$9,900 from his council office budget. According to the contract, CitySourced will offer a live online training seminar. Additional tech support, the contract says, is limited to four hours a month and is billed at $200 an hour. Also, per the contract,DeMaio must use "reasonable good faith efforts" to promote the app, andhe's required to put a link to on his website.

Shouldn't the City Council as a whole have input in this matter?

Since the contract is so low, the City Council didn't need to approve it. And, if the app only covers DeMaio's district, then it's akin to him fielding complaints from his constituents (he'll be able to set the geographic boundaries that the app covers). Pete Constant's app covers all of San Jose, but complaints are routed through his office. Garcetti's app, "Garcetti 311," looks to be only for residents of his district. If DeMaio's office is fielding complaints from other council districts, that could raise some turf issues. I contacted Council President Tony Young for comment, but didn't hear back by press time.

Given the availability of free smartphone and web-based services that perform this service for cities (for example,, why did you instead choose to spend money for a homegrown application?

CitySourced is based in L.A. and has partnered with a handful of other cities (like San Francisco). But, as I point out in the article, the Mayor's office has been looking to partner with engineering students at UCSD to develop a (homegrown) citywide app.

But, DeMaio's a self-marketing genius and the app is a marketing tool. Both Garcetti and Constant got quite a bit of media attention when they announced their app's launch, and both put their names on the app's face.

(I asked Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the city's Ethics Commission, if this raised any campaign-related issues since DeMaio's announced plans to run for mayor. While Fulhorst can't comment on specific instances, she said that, in general, unless communication with potential voters explicitly makes a campaign pitch or lists a person's qualifications for office, no campaign laws are being violated.)

This isn't the first time DeMaio's used his office budget (roughly $1 million this year) on a self-marketing tool. Last year, he paid actuarial consultant Bill Sheffler $36,900 to help develop the Roadmap to Recovery, DeMaio's plan for closing the city's budget gap. Physical copies of the Roadmap cost DeMaio's office $35 each. DeMaio's been taking the Roadmap around to various civic organizations and special-interest groups and holding town halls in each council district.  


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