Los Angeles has named a technologist named Peter Marx to serve as the city’s first chief innovation technology officer,* Government Technology’s Wayne Hanson reports:
Marx, a Los Angeles native, is charged with improving the MyLA311 service, upgrading the city’s websites, and applying data sharing and analysis to upgrade city government performance. He will work in the Mayor’s Office as a technology coordinator, strategist and advisor across city organizations.
According to biographical information released by the mayor’s office, Marx’s background is squarely in the private sector, with a focus on consumer tech. He’s put in time at Qualcomm Labs, Mattel, Vivendi-Universal and game maker Electronic Arts. Marx says his interest in the job includes making his native city easier to navigate for its millions of other residents:
“I was born here and I can’t tell you all the different services. People think they interact with the city when they pay their business tax or get a parking ticket. But the reality is you interact with the city every day,” he said. “When you go to the airport, when you park, when you turn on the light switch, you are receiving a service from the Department of Water and Power, which is part of the city.”
That mention of the Department of Water and Power — or LADWP, as Angelenos have it — is a hint that Marx’s appointment is about more than getting the trains to run on time. LADWP was a key issue in last year’s mayoral race that put Eric Garcetti, a 43-year-old former city councilmember, in office. The department has a reputation for roguishness, and Garcetti allies like City Controller Ron Galperin have pushed to use data to open its operations to the public as a first step toward reform. It’s all part of Garcetti’s “Back to Basics Agenda,” which is focused on figuring out how L.A. runs and making it a city that functions well on a human scale.
On December 18, Garcetti signed an executive directive aimed at getting city agencies and departments to prepare their data to go up online in an Open Data Portal later this year. The order was full of the sort of phrases — “all appropriate data sets,” “whenever possible,” “on a regular basis” — that make open government advocates nervous about toothlessness. It will fall to Marx to operationalize that directive. Asked about the task on local radio station KCRW shortly before his first day yesterday, Marx demurred a bit. “You walk before you run,” he said.
* What exactly Marx is the first of isn’t entirely clear, as in whether Los Angeles has had chief innovation or chief technology folks before, but never a chief innovation technology officer. I’ve put the question to Garcetti’s office and will update with any response.
Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.