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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Transparency and Accountability

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CTO Keith Hanson to open channels to efficient government

Mayor Adrian Perkins wants the world to know that Shreveport is a mid-sized city on the warpath to modernizing. That’s why he has Keith Hanson leading the charge as the city’s new chief technology officer.

“I chose Keith to serve at the city’s first chief technology officer because he is uniquely qualified,” Perkins said. “His technological expertise coupled with his business background enables him to cut costs while bringing Shreveport into the 21st century.”

Hanson wants to guide the city to using technology to create greater transparency within municipal government. That, he said, will benefit both those within government and the public they serve.

“One of the highlights of a growing smart city is that typically they don’t have an I.T. director,” Hanson said. “They have a chief technology officer, chief innovation officer or even an entire innovation department driving impactful change across government. That’s what (Perkins) wants to have happen in Shreveport.

“I want a transparent culture, a transparent organization. Just open up the data to everybody. Those are the things that I see in other cities that we lack, and I see the biggest outcry in the public for transparency. We want to see where cost savings might be.”

Hanson wants to start with one of the foundational elements for all city operations – the budget. He has plans to implement The People’s Budget, a set of online tools that translates hundreds of pages of line items into an interactive, user-friendly format that anyone can understand. It shows the citizens exactly how and where their money is being spent.

“The People’s Budget lets the citizens look at their city’s finances and see just how their money is being spent,” Hanson said. “And this technology lets us do this at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Hanson is reluctant to compare the status of Shreveport’s technology to other cities. In fact, he calls that a “dangerous game,” because each city is unique in its technology needs and challenges. Instead, Hanson looks to other cities for ideas that might have practical use in Shreveport. One of those ideas he found is CityScore in Boston.

The webpage, boston.gov/cityscore, uses a score of one to indicate that city services are meeting target expectations. Each day, the page gives a score below, at or above one to indicate overall performance by city government. Users can find scores for specific departments with city government and see case studies on how departments aim to improve low scores.

Hanson believes that an open, transparent government is a better government.

“It lets the citizens give us ideas instead of carrying on loudly on Facebook,” he said. “Then you know if they are attacking you, or using an idea as a weapon. That’s what happens when you have that kind of a vacuum. When you don’t fix that vacuum, all you’re going to get is attacks. We’re building this to empower citizens to give us information.”

Hanson is no stranger to this kind of technology. He recalls breaking and fixing computers as young as 12 in his parents’ house. Along the way, he worked for Best Buy’s Geek Squad customer service department, as well as customer service call centers. That’s where he learned not only technical skills but management skills. He went on to launch Twin Engines Labs, a software and app development company. Twin Engine Labs recently merged with another development company, Synapse, to form a new company, Ruby Shore Software. Hanson left the company before the merger to make his first foray into the political arena.

In 2018, Hanson ran for the District B seat on the Shreveport City Council. He lost the seat to Grayson Boucher. They were political opponents during the election, but they have become allies in the pursuit of more open government.

Within the city’s I.T. department, Hanson said he sees two key areas of improvement: automation and empowerment.

“The city’s mainframe technology is powered by two salaries in my department,” he said. “I’ve already discussed this with that department. We’re going to be automating those two positions. It’s not that they have to get out of the I.T. department, but you can’t stay in that division is basically the message I gave them. And they’re fine with that. There’s several opportunities inside the department to get cross-trained into, and I will absolutely be doing a lot of that.”

“What I’ve seen lacking in the department is a lack of empowerment of our employees. There was no real push for training. There was a directive to use the training available, but there was no accountability of the process. So, I’ll be implementing a lot of that. It will be mandatory to train constantly.”

Hanson’s position with the city is a new position, but it is a budget-neutral position, meaning it did not add any money to the bottom line for the I.T. department. Hanson said that’s part of a new approach in the Perkins administration to bring the I.T. department out of the shadows of being an internal service department for the rest of the city administration.

“It seemed more like insurance instead of necessity,” he said, “like having full-site security plans in place for the government is important. Hackers are trying to break in all the time. You can see the logs. My networking guy is on top of all that all the time, but he also goes home. We don’t have the necessary things in place because the budget was never allocated for those things.”

Hanson added that he has no plans to rush into raising his department’s budget, either.

“I refuse to increase my budget unless it’s some kind of capital expenditure,” he said. “If we’re talking about capital expenditures, I may need council approval and help for that.”

One piece of technology he would like to add is body cameras for Shreveport police officers. But even that would have to come with the right training and security safeguards in place for the video that is captured by the cameras.

“As a paranoid technologist, I want to be able to ensure that when it was recorded, it hit the servers and didn’t get tampered with,” he said. “I want to be able to see who accessed what, when and why, and all of that has to be right.”

Hanson said he sees his new role ultimately as unifying city government, business and residents in more seamless and transparent operations. If he can accomplish that, he says everyone comes out a winner.

“What gets me super-excited when I get into this seat every single day is to be able to open up channels to the public,” he said. “That is something that I did not see in previous administrations and I think was needed, so, that is part of what my role is, to be a conduit to the public, to the business owners, to the educators, to city government at large and other departments. To synthesize all of that input and then figure out real strategy that’s going to drive innovation throughout government.”

“Big wins that we’re going to see in the next few years are cost savings across the board. We’re going to win over and over and over. My goal is to save money, then take those savings and save more money, and then take that and keep doing it over and over and over. Those efficiencies are going to be the way we’re able to move forward.”

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