By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
The City of San Antonio is now one of only 10 U.S. city governments chosen for the national Code for America program. Its status as a fellowship city was announced last week at the annual Code for America Summit.
A national nonprofit organization, Code for America works to create better citizen-government interactions and improve city services though a technologist volunteer program similar in structure to the Peace Corp. Each year the organization chooses 10 cities and around 30 technologist fellows to work in those cities. This January, three of those fellows will travel to San Antonio to begin work on one of several proposed initiatives to improve the citizens of San Antonio’s relationship with their local government.
“We are excited to partner with Code for America and welcome the fellows to San Antonio,” Mayor Julian Castro said in a city press release. “I look forward to the work that the fellows will produce to improve on the quality of services the city provides. This partnership will strengthen the city’s competitiveness as a technology and innovation hub.”
Code for America will announce San Antonio’s assigned technology volunteers in November. The fellows will work closely with San Antonio Chief Technology Officer Hugh Miller and Assistant IT Director Kevin Goodwin – going through a research phase in January and choosing their project by February. Two proposals are currently being considered.
The first initiative is to create a database on every address in the city that will display all relevant services or events that occurred at that point. This would include city services performed at the location – such as road work, solid waste disposal stats, and water services – as well as all the permits requested and crimes committed at the address. This will enable citizens to make informed decisions on whether to buy a house, locate a business, develop a property, or do anything else at any address in the city.
The second initiative will create a website that ties together all the volunteer opportunities in San Antonio so that citizens would be able to log on at one place and become more involved in the city. A database connected to the site will allow the city to monitor and better use volunteer resources by ensuring that the right number of volunteers are working on each project and that they have all the resources they need to complete their job.
Miller had already been communicating with Code for America in the 10 months leading up to the announcement and said that Code for America had been considering San Antonio for a long time. He sees it as a great way to get new talented technologists into government – an area they typically avoid.
“How do you make government appealing to talent? That’s one of the things this program does is you take this talent, you engage them into civic opportunities, and let them get a feel for what it takes to run and manage government and citizen services,” Miller said.
To be considered, every applying city must both pay $180,000 and receive a matching amount from the community. San Antonio’s 80/20 Foundation is financing the other $180,000 and will continue to support the project by connecting the fellows with additional partners and resources The money will pay the fellows’ living expenses and go towards the chosen initiative for the city. The 80/20 Foundation’s Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez believes that acceptance into the program is a huge step for the city.
“I think that being accepted into Code for America changes the brand of our city,” Gomez said. “It says we are an innovative city, that we are looking for new ways to run government business, and it portrays the image we want to the rest of the world which is: We embrace the new talent economy and embrace using new innovative technologies to change city government. It is yet another reason that San Antonio is a city on the rise.”