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Scott says Little Rock alive and well, out of tunnel

Mayor interviewed on use of data in operating a city by Joseph Flaherty | July 29, 2021 at 7:59 a.m.
FILE - Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. talks to a limited crowd during a virtual grand opening for the new Little Rock Southwest Magnet High School on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen Swofford)

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. during a virtual conference on local government Wednesday told an interviewer that "on the other side of a global pandemic, I'm happy to report that Little Rock is alive and well."

Scott said officials learned to be decisive, learn from mistakes, allow data -- and, in some cases, science -- to drive decisions and to "create a battle rhythm" during the pandemic.

He said no mayor in America could have prepared for what occurred in 2020, naming "a global pandemic, social and civil unrest, a political insurrection and, depending on where you lived in the United States, severe results of climate change."

The four-day conference at which Scott was one of the featured speakers is a production of the digital publication Route Fifty, which covers state and local government.

His interviewer during the prerecorded segment was Lauren Su, the director of certification for What Works Cities, an initiative meant to encourage the use of data at the municipal level that is affiliated with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Little Rock earlier this month was awarded silver certification from What Works Cities.

The city was one of 16 to achieve 2021 certification for the first time, according to a Bloomberg Philanthropies news release issued July 14.

On Tuesday, the city's performance and innovation coordinator, Melissa Bridges, likened the process to the accreditation of the Little Rock Zoo and the police and fire departments during a presentation to members of the Little Rock Board of Directors.

Of the list of new cities that received certification this month, Bridges said she was proud to say Little Rock was one of the smaller cities.

"There's only about three that have a smaller population than we do," she said. "Most of the other cities that are doing this work are much larger than us, so that speaks volumes to the commitment of our organization and the departments and all of the employees across all of our departments that are helping do this work."

Only 40 cities nationwide have achieved certification from What Works Cities, Bridges noted.

She said the city is judged on factors such as data governance, open data and results-driven contracting.

Little Rock went from achieving 27% of the criteria in 2018 to 38% in 2019, and finally 58% in 2020, which got the city to its silver certification, she reported.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's charitable giving supports Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Scott chose to endorse Bloomberg during the billionaire's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

Asked by Su about what it takes for a city to be successful at using data to enhance transparency, decision-making and resident engagement, Scott told her his team campaigned and has governed on being "accountable, clear and transparent."

He added, "And the best way to be accountable, clear and transparent is to not only understand the data, but lead with data."

Data has contributed to efforts to pinpoint areas for the attention of the Public Works Department such as pothole management, trash pickup, ditch maintenance or grass-cutting within the right of way, Scott said.

These efforts are meant to "ensure that there's a quality-of-life-and-place within our city, to deter crime and to help prevent crime," he said.

He named code enforcement and the city's police and fire departments as other city divisions, explaining "they all are interrelated, and what connects us all is the data."

Scott said leadership has to get involved and tell midlevel managers that data will be required.

He said the use of data "just helps you to be a better customer-service provider; it helps you to elevate your communications and to cement change by allowing the data to sometimes be your messenger."

Scott said he would question any mayor who does not want to use data, particularly when it is available.

He mentioned dilapidated homes as one area where officials hope to use data to tackle the problem. Scott said many times these areas become unsafe for "our brothers and sisters that are experiencing homelessness -- could become a crime and a drug-haven area."

He suggested data also could support efforts on getting individuals to the right resources to help them exit their situation.

"So I'm most excited about that connection between code enforcement and crime prevention," Scott said.

Print Headline: Scott says LR alive and well, out of tunnel

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