Monday, March 11, 2013

Government Responsiveness & Twitter

I’ve always been critical of Philly311.

Like Big Belly trashcans, it works better in theory. 

Calling 311 has never led me anywhere near the department or answer to my question that I’d been looking for. Only to a seemingly confused receptionist that I imagine is referencing an outdated one-sheet of city departments and nonexistent extensions.

To be fair, that was a couple of years ago.

More recently the city’s foray into technological responsiveness and transparency may actually be working to the advantage of residents.

Here in Philly we don’t have four seasons. We only have two: winter and road construction.

It’s been a mild winter.

In terms of street damage the lack of snow means less water freezing and thawing in the cracks of the streets and less salt and brine to exacerbate the issue. So unless Floridian sinkholes begin turning up, this spring should be smoother than in years past.

But inevitably, potholes happen. It’s the city and sometimes the road more traveled can be a bumpy one.

I’m a writer. Which means I sit online all day and read the Internet. All of it. Every day. In bits and pieces, headlines and tweets. Sometimes I’m impressed. Generally I’m not. Like I said – I’m a writer. And a Philadelphian. Which means I’m a skeptic.

But today, I was genuinely impressed.

A person tweets a pothole picture/location to a neighborhood association twitter handle. Neighborhood association tweets the issue to Philly311.

Not only does the attentive employee manning Philly311’s twitter account pass the issue onto the Streets Department, accomplishing what years of messages left on unmanned phone lines have seemingly never been able to do. But they also had a moment to respond to my undeniably snide inquisition as to how long the process of fixing said pothole would actually take.

Long story short:

If you see a pothole, and tweet its location to @Philly311, they will respond with a Streets Department tracking number of the complaint and a link where you can follow along with the progress, online.

Who knew?! 

Initial complaints will be investigated within 24 hours” and the hole will be “made safe.”

Though permanent repairs don’t begin until the threat of snow is long gone – usually in April, this immediate attention is a thing of beauty… in theory, at least.

Like I said, I’m a skeptic.

But hey, if a tweet can get a pothole filled in within 24 hours, just imagine the possibilities.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Military Aid & Thoughts on Spending

Since the newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his first official Middle East trip, it’s been one announcement after another. Meets here, greets there; nine days and nearly as many countries. Kerry’s itinerary had him making stops in England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, with most of the European leg focusing on Africa’s violent conflicts. 

The nation's top diplomat has returned bill in-hand having made aid commitments to regimes spanning millions of square miles.  

For Egypt, Kerry promises a needed infusion. With one caveat: No guns. Humanitarian only. But it’s just an installment; some good faith, walking-around money. There was the billion in support promised to the victors during Egypt’s rebellion in 2011, but for now, of the $450 million on the table, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy will receive $190 million. 

There’s a cool $60 million headed to the Syrian rebels fighting against dictator Bashar Assad. That’s if it makes it; of the $385 million promised little is reported as being seen on the ground. Aid comes two years into the brutal conflict, a debilitating pace pointed out long-ago by critics. And there’s the same deal on this agreement. No guns.

We’ve also promised $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel. It's a little different on this one. Lots of money, all for guns. This continues what will be a decade-long $30 billion military aid agreement from the Bush era. 

Within our own borders rebellion's a quality society actively works to suppress. Yet we support it internationally. Are we rebels? Or are we newly appointed diplomats with a passive charm? Considering our nation's dialogue on gun rights and safety, it would make sense that our policies at home reflect our behaviors abroad. 

Back here in America, the ink’s barely dry on the government’s forced spending cuts. There’s turmoil amidst and the affects of our self-imposed sanctions have yet to be felt.

With all the time spent funding the rise of this leader or that, America's lost control of its most important foothold.

It’s time we got our house in order. 

The neighbors can wait.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Philly Council to hear testimony on student safety following January’s elementary school abduction

The safety of students within the walls of Philadelphia’s schools has now come under fire. And when Philadelphia’s parents take the mic in defense of their own, the Lord himself can’t stop the blow back.

On Tuesday, March 12, Council’s committees on public safety and education will convene a specially scheduled public hearing on the Philadelphia School District’s policy for the dismissal or release of students to parents and guardians.

Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. at City Hall in room 400, in the Council chambers. Following the hearing, the joint committees will consider what action should be taken to better verify the identity of persons who remove a student from a Philadelphia public school.

There’s an unspoken societal agreement, even here in Philadelphia that once a kid enters the walls of their school, he or she is safe. Sure there’s still bullying and the occasional weapon, but by and large, schools are a safe place.

It was a Monday morning in January that started just as any other. Children across Philadelphia made their way to school, some walking, some by bus and public transportation and others taken door to door by their parents.

But on this January morning a woman disguised in a traditional Muslim head scarf entered a West Philadelphia elementary school, scribbled her name on a sign-in sheet and asked to take her daughter out for breakfast. She proceeded to the child's classroom where she asked for the girl by name. She then escorted her from the premises.

The woman did not show identification. And her decision to masquerade in an Islamic veil has enraged the Muslim community, members whom gathered at a February meeting of Philadelphia’s City Council to voice their disdain.

The unspoken societal contract has been broken. In the process, a child was abducted and brutally abused, and the Muslim community has been victimized. With hearings scheduled for Tuesday, the conversation about the security of Philadelphia’s schools is just beginning.