Boston’s data plan

Mayor Marty Walsh is determined to go boldly into the 21st century. Or at least make sure Boston arrives, even if a little late, at the end of the 20th.

So it was that the mayor stood yesterday, appropriately enough, in the middle of the city’s Innovation District (also known as the Seaport District, also known as South Boston) to unveil Boston’s new 311 call system for reporting non-emergency matters in need of municipal attention.

The 311 system, first launched in Baltimore in 1996, has made its way to plenty of US cities, including Somerville, but former mayor Tom Menino was having none of it. The man who famously eschewed voice mail in City Hall insisted that a standard, 10-digit phone number known as the “mayor’s hotline” would do just fine, thank you, for his city.

Under Walsh, Boston is finally joining the 311 parade.

Just what should residents use 311 to report?  WGBH’s Mike Deehan has a helpful primer: “Not sure when street cleaning or trash pickup is for your block? Want to know what to do with the baby possum you found trapped in a city recycling bin? Is that junkie back on your stoop? Hell, just want to tell the mayor to stop wearing pleated pants in public?”

OK, maybe skip the snarky sartorial sallies at Hizzoner. But you get the idea.

Daniel Koh, Walsh’s chief of staff, has said Boston is committed to an intensive Moneyball level use of data to drive improvements in municipal government. Koh even penned a piece earlier this year likening Walsh to Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, the inspiration for the best-selling Michael Lewis book documenting the winning ways of a data-focused approach in baseball.

Boston’s plunge into the modern municipal era is welcome news. But it brings its own challenges. Not least of these is the near certainty of a big increase in constituent reports of problems. The introduction of 311 systems elsewhere has invariably led to big spikes in citizen complaints. That puts city government on the hook for performing at a higher level — and means there will be plenty of scrutiny of how it’s doing.

In April, after the Walsh administration reported filling 50 percent more potholes in its first year than in the last year of the Menino reign, the Globe asked somewhat skeptically, “what, exactly, qualifies as a pothole?” The story went out to dissect the city numbers, finding at least 350 reports of filled potholes that were double-counted and 275 potholes that crews could not locate but were nonetheless recorded as filled. In February, the Globe reported that the city mistakenly closed out 9,000 cases related to snow removal complaints.

The other challenge is that the 311 system, complete with a smartphone app and Twitter handle for submitting complaints, provides a sharp contrast to the administration’s apparent befuddlement over how to retrieve text messages the mayor exchanged during the Olympics deliberation. Meanwhile, the fact that potholes or missing street signs can be documented and reported with a cameraphone may serve to spotlight Police Commissioner William Evans’s recent comments that some limits might be good on citizens using those same phones to record police encounters.

The city’s arrival in the 311 era is long overdue and signals a healthy appreciation by the Walsh administration for innovation in the delivery of municipal services. But city government will also find it harder and harder to just pick and choose off the digital-age menu.

MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

Mystery ballot question could add a second slots parlor at a race track. (CommonWealth)

The Globe‘s Evan Horowitz tries to flesh out whether the troubled Department of Children and Families is doing better today than a year ago.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lawrence City Council votes 7-2, largely along ethnic lines, to make the municipality a sanctuary city that won’t cooperate with federal officials in pursuing illegal immigrants. The council also urged the Legislature to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston is trimming a tax break it gave to Vertex Pharmaceuticals by $3 million because the company has fallen way short of the job growth numbers it promised in exchange for the deal. (Boston Globe)

There have been at least 13 bicyclists killed on Boston streets over the past five years. (Boston Globe)

The Worcester City Council engages in an emotional debate about one councilor’s call for State Police help in stemming violence in the municipality. (Telegram & Gazette)

Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed Brockton’s AA credit rating, one step below its highest AAA rating, but issued a “negative” outlook, saying the city needs to make structural changes to avoid the repetitive budget deficits. (The Enterprise)

The Braintree Town Council has passed an ordinance barring utilities from digging up roads for non-emergencies for 10 years after they’ve been newly paved. (Patriot Ledger)

CASINOS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh offers to keep talking with Steve Wynn, despite Wynn’s claim that he’s done negotiating with the mayor. The mayor also acknowledges he may have misunderstood Wynn’s nine-figure money offer. (CommonWealth)

The proposed Wampanoag casino divides Martha’s Vineyard. (Washington Post)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

About half of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is still on the fence on President Obama’s (and former colleague John Kerry’s) nuclear deal with Iran. (Associated Press)

Amnesty International votes to recommend decriminalizing prostitution and other sex work. (Time)

ELECTIONS

Feeling the Bern: Bernie Sanders surges past Hillary Clinton in a new poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters. (Boston Herald) Makes for a good pairing with this Globe story on Clinton’s reluctance to take a firm stand on a number of issues large and small.

Clinton is turning over her personal email server to the Department of Justice. (Time)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announces he will run for a third term in the fall. (Standard-Times)

Salem is doing away with its citywide preliminary election due to a lack of candidates. (Salem News)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may be a tight-fisted fiscal conservative, but he’s asking taxpayers to spend $400 million on a new basketball arena. (Governing)

Three Republican women — two former New Hampshire state representatives and the head of the Massachusetts GOP — defend Donald Trump, saying the billionaire candidate is being persecuted by the politically correct left. (Greater Boston)

Jeff Jacoby applauds Bobby Jindal‘s assimilationist attitude toward his Indian roots and says the Louisiana governor is following in a proud American tradition. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Williams College is undertaking $278 million in capital projects, work that has become a boon to the local economy by providing jobs and triggering ancillary construction. (Berkshire Eagle)

Across Massachusetts, 20,000 affordable housing units could go market rate by the end of the decade. (WBUR)

A Haverhill woman was awarded $4 million by a jury in a negligence case against a Boston hotel whose garage she was raped in 12 days after another woman was attacked there. (Boston Globe)

The Charity Defense Council, an organization set up by marketing executive and entrepreneur Dan Pallotta to deter people from evaluating charities based on their overhead costs, lambasted the reporting by Pro Publica and NPR that has questioned spending by the American Red Cross in Haiti and some US cities hit by disasters. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

Boston is being hit by a chef shortage. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Salem sixth graders will learn about potential job paths from citizen teachers. (Salem News)

Fall River Mayor Samuel Sutter says he will reinstate school crossing guards before classes resume in September, just weeks after cutting them from the fiscal 2016 police budget and just before voters go to the polls for the preliminary election. (Herald News)

HEALTH CARE

The Lynn City Council votes to ask Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate the Partners HealthCare plan that would strip Union Hospital of most of the services it offers. (The Item)

The number of uninsured has dropped by nearly 16 million people since 2013, according to the Obama administration. (New York Times)

The left-leaning Urban Institute issues a report saying the Affordable Care Act will not work the way it was intended unless the federal government invests an additional $560 billion over the next decade. (U.S. News & World Report)

A Pioneer Institute study indicates health care professionals are not complying with a law requiring them to disclose their pricing. (Masslive)

TRANSPORTATION

The ride-sharing debate may be raging on Beacon Hill, but Llyr T. Johansen thinks the debate is over. Uber is the new driver in town, he says. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Department of Environmental Protection has fined Eversource, formerly known as NStar, $10,000 for a 2014 oil spill in Springfield that the company failed to report to the state. (The Republican)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Two nurses aides at the Wingate at Belvidere nursing home in Lowell are charged with posting humiliating videos of elderly residents on social media. (The Sun)

The Arlington, Texas, police chief fired a rookie officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, saying the officer displayed “bad judgment” and his own actions escalated the incident. (New York Times)

Inmates at a New York prison where two convicted killers escaped in June were allegedly beaten and tortured by guards in retribution in the wake of the escape even though only prison workers have been implicated. (New York Times)