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City contracts dating to 1993 to be posted on Internet

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

Information on more than 90,000 city contracts dating back to 1993 will be available and easy to download on the Internet, thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s latest move to shine the light on City Hall.

In nearly three months in office, Emanuel has posted an unprecedented amount of information on the Internet in the name of government “transparency.”

The mayor’s office has literally released 170 “datasets” — everything from the names and salaries of city employees to information on lobbyists, crime, abandoned buildings and the list of contractors barred from doing business with the city.

Until now, contract information was available on the Internet, but it was not easy to find, search or download. You had to make a specific search on the Department of Procurement Services website or file a Freedom of Information request. Contracts were distributed by the city through e-mail or PDF.

The new system is in an “open, searchable, machine readable format” designed to dramatically reduce the time it takes to access information on city spending. Chicago would literally blaze a national trail when it comes to contract transparency, officials said.

“These efforts will increase the openness and efficiency of the contracting process,” Emanuel said in a press release promising additional “contracting reforms and efficiencies.”

“By posting this data online in an easy-to-use format, we will be able to … ensure that these contracting processes are conducted in full view of the public.”

For years, former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s response to the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals was to shine a brighter light.

Another headline. Another indictment. Another mountain of information made available on the internet.

Last year, in the name of “transparency,” Daley even got some measure of revenge against the investigative reporters who had made his life miserable by digging up dirt on the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals.

He revamped the city’s new website to include a log of all Freedom of Information Act requests. That tipped investigative reporters to the trail being followed by competitors.

“If you want transparency in government, you have to have this. I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with [getting even with] the Sun-Times, Tribune, media or anything. This is what you want,” Daley said at the time.

Also on Tuesday, Emanuel welcomed hundreds of budget cutting and revenue-raising ideas submitted by the public on a new interactive website designed to engage Chicagoans in the daunting task of erasing the city’s $635.7 million budget shortfall.

“People … want their ideas to be heard. I want that engagement. ... In fact, I met this morning with my budget team, and there’s a number of ideas they are now scrutinizing as it relates to things we can incorporate,” Emanuel said, refusing to comment on specific suggestions.

“I walk away knowing the people of Chicago love their city, have passion for it, have ideas and there are some very good ideas that are filtering to the top that I think can be promising as it relates to saving money.”

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