Spotlight: Jonathan Feldman, City of Asheville

Jonathan Feldman (@_jfeldman) is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, N.C. Asheville is a small city with a big startup and open data scene that has been featured on and the National League of Cities. Jonathan has helped build the case for an open data initiative by demonstrating economic development and practical value of open data in a small city. He cites a local business with 35 employees that uses public data from municipalities, and the lowered demand for manually fulfilled public records requests when citizens can find the same information freely online. We asked him a few questions:

How did you come to work in local government (the postcard length version)?

I left the corporate world of New York City to move to Savannah, Ga. as a lifestyle move for my family, and a local government job was the first IT job in the area to open up. After leaving for a couple of years to return to the private sector, I realized that I really missed the mission focus: the fact that your work really mattered. When local government IT folks do their jobs, frequently, they are making the community better, or an officer safer, or making government easier or less expensive for everybody. I really enjoy that.

Asheville (pop. 85,000) has been recognized as a leading example of how small cities can take on open data initiatives too — it’s not just for major cities like NYC and Chicago. What benefits can open data provide a small city like Asheville?

Open data really translates into “open records that you can serve yourself, without staff intervention,” right? So, if you look at it from the government operations standpoint, every government record that is self serve for a citizen, business, or journalist is time that is saved for staff. Every local government needs to save time for staff, not just large governments.

What’s the biggest challenge to innovation you face in Asheville?

I think that daily operations always gets in the way of innovation, in the same way that everybody’s “daily grind” gets into the way of going to the gym. We all need gym and innovation time, but we won’t get it until we start scheduling time for it and then keeping that appointment with ourselves. Sometimes that can be very hard.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love seeing new IT professionals find their wings. One of the best things to happen this past summer was seeing an intern light up when he figured out that he really could write a Python / Javascript app that would help our firefighters save a bunch of time every week.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica

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