Will the real civtech community please stand up (and help save Bell, CA)?

Bell, CAThe New York Times reports that The City of Bell, CA, famous for getting swindled out of $5 million by its own public officials is now holding a $4 million budget gap and a new city council, none of whom have experience running a city.

If Gov 2.0 wants a moment of glory, here’s your silver platter.

During manor.govfresh last September, we did a Gov 2.0 Makeover for DeLeon, TX, including an updated website, Google Apps, social media integration and a number of other behind-the-scenes technology upgrades. Several companies graciously donated their technology. More recently, Facebook is leveraging its technology skills and taking initiative to help the community where it’s building its new headquarters.

So, civic developers, barcampers and hackathoners, here’s an opportunity to stand up and show how Gov 2.0 can impact a city right now. Think Code for America on steroids.

Companies like SeeClickFix, Phase One, Spigit and many others targeting the government market with lower-cost, new tech alternatives, here’s a golden opportunity to showcase your goods and gain a huge amount of social capital by offering your products for free (forever).

I’m willing to help any way I can. Speaking from firsthand experience helping DeLeon, it’s not trivial work. The leaders of Bell will have to think ‘startup.gov,’ just as De Leon did, and accept they must execute immediately and step out of the bureaucratic mindset (something tells me they will). Volunteers and sponsor companies will have to let go of egos and upsells and just get it done.

Six months from now Bell could be a ‘beta city,’ and the rest of the world will better understand how technology can revolutionize the way government works.

Who wants to take the lead and contact Bell right now? Leave messages in the comments to offer your support/services or contact me directly at luke@govfresh.com if you have ideas on how we can just do this.

DeLeon did it. So can Bell.

So can we.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

31 Responses

  1. Luke Fretwell

    I sent an email to that address and got a bounce back. Anyone find out how to connect with them? Maybe NY Times writer can help.

  2. I’m more than happy to offer free NationBuilder for website, social media, citizen engagement stuff…. and it’d be a great excuse to work on integrating with SeeClickFix.

  3. Great idea. To make this sustainably effective, the efforts will need to reach beyond civic techies into Bell’s community. The small-ish size of Bell makes it a great prospect for major, beneficial change.

  4. Happy to help out with an assessment of their public participation needs and opportunities (e.g. a potential budget consultation with Bell citizens).

    Getting free access to certain tools is the easy part. What’s much harder is figuring out a Gov 2.0 strategy that will help achieve the city’s objectives and guide which projects they should implement. That kind of work is usually very time-intensive. Not sure if “free” is sustainable. Whoever can help them find a good way out of the current budget crisis deserves a cut. ;-)

  5. Luke Fretwell

    Absolutely. Plan is important, but over-strategizing over a wiki isn’t always practical. :-)

    Put you down as a project leader?

  6. Anonymous

    Happy to join an initial call, but way too busy to commit to anything beyond that. ;-)

    If it turns out the City leadership is genuinely interested in working out a solid public participation piece then we can take it from there.

  7. I am willing to help draft a recommendations page from all the helpers. Here is a sample outline with some suggested starting topics. These are just ideas. I am happy to help wherever with whatever.

    GovFresh Report for a better Bell, California

    – Summary of our goals
    Our goal is to provide you, The City of Bell, California with an outline of clear options that of changes you can make that we as a body of volunteers, would be willing to assist you with implementing.
    – Note of special considerations
    We recognize that your community is in a financial crisis and for now, we want to leverage this unfortunate times to help you make necessary and long-lasting changes that will benefit your citizens for years to come.
    – Expected results
    Upon the implementation of these recommendations, we expect you to see overall savings and an increase in participation of citizens.

    – Recommendation #1 (Crowd-source more solutions)
    Economic impact of this option
    Social impact of this option
    Suggested support organizations
    Suggested vendors?
    Suggested funding sources

    Recommendation #2 (Update IT services)
    Economic impact of this option
    Social impact of this option
    Suggested support organizations
    Suggested vendors?
    Suggested funding sources

    Recommendation #3 (Creative fundraising)
    Economic impact of this option
    Social impact of this option
    Suggested support organizations
    Suggested vendors?
    Suggested funding sources

    Summary of options with a call to action and an offering to help.

  8. We’re in!

    We can help by providing them with a free license of the YouTown.com Mobile App, which allows them to take their city mobile by bringing all their news, events, maps and services to the smartphone of their citizens.

    In addition, we can provide them with an account on PageFreezer.com for website & social media archiving to comply with California State electronic records regulations and litigation protection.

    Luke, before we all go cold call them, maybe it is an idea to coordinate all these initiatives through you or someone else?

    Michael Riedyk

    CEO DotGov, inc.


  9. Just to piggy-back on Tim’s comment, I’d be happy to help figure out how to bring citizens into the discussion on how to solve the city’s dire financial situation. Would volunteer some time and our EngagingPlans platform for a public process around the city’s budget.

  10. I’m in.

    Happy to help however I can. Sid’s outline looks pretty good as a start. I’m inclined to frame things overall as: enabling better town planning. In a recent presentation drafted for a town of similar size, I framed the “Open Data/Government” issue as one of “municipal information management”. I think it might be about: harmonizing staff routine with changing expectations. The Council got thrown out. But the council doesn’t “run” the town. Staff and residents do.

    Once collaboration is firmed up a little, it seems like a good opportunity to invite some other towns to “watch” or “follow” the project.

    Exciting times.

  11. Kevin Merritt

    Count Socrata in too. We’d be happy to help the City of Bell with a donation of an Open Data site in which they can share all of their public data. Rebuilding the trust of the citizens of Bell will require an extraordinary commitment to transparency. Put it all online – expenditures, meeting details, contracts, etc. The good news is that your Open Data site isn’t a cost center. It’s just the public facing tip of the iceberg that is your cost effective e-Government service delivery platform. I’d be happy to share with you how other cities, counties, states and federal agencies are “service enabling” their data to deliver governmental services more conveniently and cost effectively, not just for the sake of Open Government or Open Data. It’s a win/win – efficiency and cost savings + transparency and accountability.

    Contact me and we’ll set up the data.cityofbell.org datasite very quickly.

    Kevin Merritt

  12. I’d like to volunteer to be one of the project leaders. I have an organization that is just forming, dedicated to solving the IT side of government budget problems such as the one in Bell. The organization is the Center for Government Interoperability

    The organization doesn’t yet have any services but we have some connections that might be useful. Sid, who is a member, and the other commenters have gotten off to a great start.


    Alex Glaros
    Contact info: http://www.gov-ideas.com/contact.htm

  13. Hi Luke,

    It is refreshing to see others who share my passion for better government!

    We at a municibid would be happy to help! municibid is an open, compliant and no cost platform for government to liquidate no longer needed assets, which is an easy way to raise money. The cities of Philadelphia & Boston have recently signed long term contracts with municibid.

    If we can be of assistance, please call 800.531.6074 (my ext is 703) or greg.berry at municibid dot com.


  14. Hi Luke, Knowledge As Power could go in, work to open up the legislative and budget info, and launch city council legislation tracking and communications tools. I’ll search for grant funding to do the work.

  15. Luke, what we can offer is not a technical solution but a review, at the appropriate point, to assure that the solution(s) proposed for adoption are consistent with, or actually superior to, the safeguards of California’s transparency laws.

  16. Beth Noveck


    Not clear to me that City Hall needs to be the gatekeeper here. What about reaching out directly to the people of Bell through voter rolls or through the schools to ask them what they would like? Present what the group can offer in a short movie, 1-pager, slide deck but let them lead and take advantage of people’s (including my) willingness to help. Otherwise we would just be throwing tools at the problems without changing the culture of governance and building collaborative practices for the future.

  17. Anonymous

    In my opinion, it would be worth the effort to try to get the decision makers on board from the start.

  18. Lucas Cioffi

    It’s great to see the energy here. I’d be happy to offer OnlineTownhalls software if they want to engage a large number of their residents in a single conversation.

    I can also help as part of a team that wants to synthesize all the offerings mentioned in this comment section.

  19. Luke Fretwell

    Hi all,

    Thank you for the support offers and feedback.

    I spoke with someone who has been leading community efforts to organize citizens, and she will be posting an article on GovFresh soon to give a better perspective on what’s happening in Bell and how others can help.


  20. Granicus has been trying to get in touch with Bell for 3 weeks now. We are ready to donate. Any help is greatly appreciated. Can’t even get a phone call returned.


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