With significant backing from two of Chattanooga's prominent foundations, City Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to commit funds to a national fellowship program seeking to connect smart, technical minds with their local governments.
Jeff Cannon, the city's chief innovation officer, told the group Chattanooga had been selected as one of 10 finalists to participate in the program, offered by a nonpartisan group called Code for America. If selected, the city would put $180,000 with an additional $240,000 offered by local organizations, including the Lyndhurst and Benwood foundations, to pay for the city's participation in the program.
"When we think about tech or innovation in our city, we often think about the gig or the SimCenter," Cannon said. "But I would almost guarantee that no one thinks about city government‚ and we can change that. Code for America is a step toward what's commonly known as 'Government 2.0,' and it leverages one of our most underutilized resources—our geeks."
Founded in 2009, Code for America is a group that seeks to "bring leaders in tech and innovation together with local governments." The organization promotes openness, transparency, participation and collaboration in problem-solving.
If selected, Code for America would provide at least three fellows to the city for at least a year. The group would work with government officials and locals to develop and test apps specific to the city, focus on public safety and civic engagement, and improve the city's internal information systems department.
Cannon said the city already had residents ready to engage.
"Coders and developers are alive and well in our city," he said.
Tim Moreland, who heads a group called Open Chattanooga, said the partnership would be beneficial to the city. In the past, Moreland has helped lead initiatives to connect tech-minded residents with government, like the recent Civic Hack-a-thon.
"We're interested in a new way of integrating government and technology," Moreland said in brief remarks to the council.
Council members posed few questions to Cannon or Moreland and offered support for the city's efforts to get involved. Cannon said that if selected efforts would be made to ensure the partnership would result in "creative solutions for all citizens."
In a news release, Mayor Andy Berke applauded the city's application.
"This opportunity validates our ever-growing place in the world of technology," Berke said. "But, more importantly, it ultimately makes local government more open, more accessible and more innovative."
Current cities involved in the Code for America fellowship program are Kansas City, San Francisco, Louisville and Las Vegas. Chattanooga will find out if it's selected in October.
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