When he reached 100 day milestone earlier this month, journalists engaged in the usual custom of assessing the event---originated in the historic first 100 days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. It’s now become a journalistic staple with every new national, state and city administration getting a 100- day rating.
If Garcetti’s plans for a data-dominated city hall work out, Angelenos won’t have to wade through these stories, but will be able to make up their own minds by reading the website lamayor.org/performance.
The late Mayor Ed Koch of New York used to ask everyone “How’m I doing,” expecting—demanding—a reply of “great.” This mayor won’t have to do that. He’ll just steer you to the web site.
I checked out the performance web site. Part of the site is in a beta or test mode. But I looked up some items that had long interested me. Pothole repairs were up from 301,653 in 2012 to 354,125 in 2013. Road repairs were up from 2012’s 1,987 miles to 2,356 this year. Actually, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was mayor during most of this time, gets some of the credit.
Garcetti does deserve praise for starting to quantify exactly what goes in city hall and making it accessible. But I can see the pitfalls. The departmental reports so far are not informative. They contain data—plenty of numbers but no way of judging whether money is spent well .
Thursday, journalist Tim Rutten gave a good explanation of why such cascades of information may not be informative. He told a session of a lecture series I am coordinating at the Pasadena Senior Center that there’s a difference between data and information. Data are facts thrown out without context, explanation or judgment of what’s important, a technique beloved by city department heads. Information, such as you get in a good article, book or broadcast, makes these distinctions. For example, the Department of Water and Power entry on the performance site reported water use down, a longtime trend. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have something that really concerns the public, such as the cost of DWP employee benefits, which includes workers not contributing to their health insurance?
The performance web site, however, has a worthwhile political aspect. It tells the city that the mayor, not the city council, runs the city departments, that he’s the guy in charge, as he should be. This fits in with what Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times described in a story as a “push to consolidate power in the mayor's office.”
Unfortunately for Garcetti, that may not be how L.A. residents see him today. A poll by the Pat Brown Institute of Cal State LA found that a sampling of registered voters gave Garcetti good approval ratings but a substantial number had not formed an opinion of him. And only 8 percent would go to the mayor’s office for help with a neighborhood problem while a quarter would go to their council member’s office. Apparently, they don’t consider him the guy in charge.
That’s something for Garcetti to improve upon in the next 100 days.