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New Online Tool Brings Transparency To City Payments

By Kate Gardiner in News on Jul 2, 2009 2:20PM

We were excited to learn that EveryBlock co-founder Daniel X. O'Neil was working with Harper Reed of Threadless fame to develop a new online gadget - but it's not the hyper-local t-shirt you might immediately presume (pretty please?). Instead, the pair produced a new city government transparency toy: CityPayments. And it's likely to be all the rage among us reporters as it gathers momentum. But what does it do? And why do we care?

The database-driven Web site collects all the information provided by the city about who's being paid what by the city of Chicago's bid-management group, the Department of Procurement. The tool then aggregates the information together onto a website and invites users to search for the names of their favorite (or least-favorite) businesses with city contracts. Any payments that have been made to that company during a specific time frame pop up, and the users are encouraged to rate the transaction's viability - tagging this or that auspicious transaction as goofy.

Reporters, bloggers and concerned citizens can then dig deeper into the goofy transactions at the behest of this crowd-sourcing and hopefully find out just where the city's money is going - and why. It's an interesting tool for - the least of which is in the context of the parking meter debacle. It's friendlier than the dataset that the city provides - and in theory, it could provide a window into the darkness of the city's Daley-sanctified business transactions.

It's something that the British newspaper, The Guardian is doing to shed light on the expenses filed by many members of Parliament in the United Kingdom - few of whom have quite the same clout in their country as our beloved ruler does on the city's streets.