A story about E-Governance in San Francisco-Bay Area

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John Wells, the head of San Francisco E-Office, was pleased of how this week turned out in the end. He was at his desk in the City Hall building, looking on the window at the Opera House across the street. It was on a Friday afternoon, late August, just one week until public schools were to open their doors to thousands of students. The heated debate (or, should he say heated e-debate?) around Proposition 98 was finally over. Covering a sensitive issue, Proposition 98 was about extra budget allocation for secondary schools located in neighborhoods with criminal activity risk.

Out of 680,000 people with voting rights, 520,000 had registered and accessed IntraCityNet, the city governance network; 420,000 of them expressed their opinion regarding the public schools budget increase, 78% in favor and the rest of 22% against the proposition 98. Although Mr. Wells has expected the outcome, he was caught with his guard down. Following one voter’s proposal, people asked and voted for an auditing team of parents and teachers to watch closely the way money were to be spent. Furthermore, instead of approving the expenses for new firearm detecting systems and other sophisticated security devices for schools, proposed by the City Hall, people came with a completely different idea. They agreed on development projects for playgrounds around the schools that should solve the problem of where the children spend their after class hours. Moreover, voters decided to increase the number of supervisors and sports coaches, in order to have children engaged in organized extracurricular activities and games.

Even now, five years after the first decision that was made through IntraCityNet, John Wells continues to be amazed by the extent to which e-governance increases people’s interest in managing their community. Looking at the next public decision due for voting within two weeks, Mr. Wells refrains himself from guessing what is going to happen. People of San Francisco have to make up their mind regarding bus line 15: shall it continue to cross Presidio Park in its way to the Golden Gate Bridge, or it is time for an alternative route, as environmentalists have argued for long time? Suddenly, Mr. Wells became less enthusiastic: he remembered about the Monday meeting with representatives of IBM and Microsoft. Technology corporations, on grounds of security concerns, have been pushing for years for tougher rules for the Internet, which in the eyes of many activist groups looks like a fight for controlling the Internet. Who is going to win?