Last week, the cover of the Daily News — a space reserved for those the paper deems the bad or good guys of the week — featured a smiling 6th District Councilman Bobby Henon, below the triumphant headline, “Lowlife Neighbors? There’s an App for That!”
The article was about the continuing popularity of a mobile application, unveiled by Henon last spring, that lets residents report nuisance properties. At a time when the city’s promised 311 app was notoriously bogged down by delays, Henon’s version appeared out of nowhere — giving the impression that all we needed to fix this city was a little councilmanic gumption.
But Henon’s app is not, despite last week’s glowing profile, the citywide fix-it you might have thought. The app doesn’t, for example, actually report anything to the city. The information is collected by Henon’s office and entered, by hand, into the city’s 311 system — something residents could have done by phone and can now do themselves using the city’s (finally delivered and pretty good) 311 app. Henon’s app mostly lets you run the problem by Henon, as he readily acknowledges. When you use it, he says, “You get the TLC from the 6th.”
It did seemingly help embarrass the city into hurrying up on its own app. And therein lies a lesson we might want to remember as we rocket into our wired municipal future: Council members play an important role in pushing the city to improve its technology — but they are not the city. They are full of good ideas, but they are not technologists.
Take another of Henon’s accomplishments: “Bobby TV,” on which the councilman made available archived web videos of Council hearings. It was a great constituent service — but hasn’t been updated since June. Hey: It wasn’t Henon’s job to archive the videos in the first place; the city, which contracts Channel 64, should do it. But someone with clout needs to push for it.
Last week, Councilman Bill Green introduced a bill requiring that the city make its websites compatible with Internet browsers other than Internet Explorer, the third-most-popular browser in use. Asked about his strategy, Green was blunt: “The quickest way to make the city move on stuff is to introduce legislation, so I did.”
It’s a kind of acknowledgment of the fact that, ultimately, it’s the city’s job to oversee this stuff, and Council’s job to nudge — and that there’s a difference between making a headline and solving a problem.
: While the Man Overboard! app is in beta, send feedback to email@example.com.