Yesterday, with much fanfare, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio released the smartphone "pothole" app that he first talked about in his state of the district address in February. In a post on the conservative blog San Diego Rostra, DeMaio wrote:
Today I unveiled San Diego 311 – a system to streamline how city services are provided to San Diego residents.... The system will not only improve citizen services, but saves taxpayers money by streamlining the way complaints are handled by city departments.In March, I asked DeMaio's office how the app, paid for with $9,900 of his office budget, would work—specifically whether it would be linked up with the city's citizen-complaint system. I got no response.
Here's how the app should work in theory: you shoot a photo of the problem (pothole, cracked public sidewalk, graffiti) with your phone's camera. The photo is geo-tagged and sent to the appropriate city department for remedy. But that's not how the app's working in practice. I confirmed this yesterday with Hasan Yousef, deputy director of the city's Streets Division. He told me that the app's not synced up with the city's complaint system and when I asked whether he knew how complaints would get to his office, "unknown at this time" was his response.
This isn't city staff's fault; this is DeMaio's fault. He launched the app without bothering to coordinate with anyone: not the folks whose departments handle the complaints, not his colleagues whose constituents will be submitting complaints via the app, nor the city's IT department.
And, the app doesn't appear to be working. City staff who tested it out yesterday found that:
* The geo-tagging system was providing the wrong coordinates
* The app was putting the wrong date / time stamps on complaints
* The only way city staff knew that people were submitting complaints is by looking at the CitySourced website. In other words, the app, touted by DeMaio as a time-saver, requires city staff to download complaints from an external website, sort the complaints and re-submit them to their department's tracking system.
There are also issues with the way DeMaio rolled out the app, telling people in a U-T article, a press release and an appearance on the Fox morning show to go to his campaign website for download instructions. It wasn't until later in the day that instructions and information about the app were posted to his council district website. But, prior to the website changes, the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council—with whom DeMaio's frequently at odds—filed a complaint with the city's Ethics Commission:
The taxpayer-funded “San Diego 311” smart phone application developed by Councilmember Carl DeMaio appears to be a publicly-funded campaign tool. According to media reports, “San Diego 311” was developed at a cost of $9,000 (though the official invoice reflects $9,900) and the funding was provided by the Council District 5 office budget.
San Diego 311 was released solely on Carl DeMaio’s “cleanupcityhall.com” website, which is operated by his campaign committee, Carl DeMaio for City Council 2012. As of 11:20am on Thursday, May 19, 2011, background and download information for this application exists solely on cleanupcityhall.com. There is NO background or download information for the application on either Carl DeMaio’s 5th Council District webpage, nor on the City’s Streets Division website.
Furthermore, this application was developed without the input of any other City official or department and, despite Councilmember DeMaio launching this application, there has been no effort to coordinate the service requests it receives and the Street Division’s regular service request system. This is significant because it indicates that Carl DeMaio has sole control over its use. A conversation with Hasan Yousef, Deputy Director of the City’s Streets Division has independently confirmed that Councilmember DeMaio has made no effort to coordinate this application with the Streets Division.
Ultimately, since this application was developed with taxpayer funding from DeMaio’s office budget, and because he has sole control over the application’s use, and because it is NOT accessible through ANY official City channels and ONLY through his campaign committee’s website, DeMaio’s use of the application violates SDMC 27.3564(b) because he has used City resources to for “the development of electronic or written materials” for campaign purposes.