Local government review site enters Tampa Bay Area market

Tampa Bay residents now have a new online tool to share their feedback, good and bad, on local government agencies and employees.

After debuting last year in south Florida, CityGrader.com has expanded to the Bay area. Billed as Yelp for local government, CityGrader is a review site that allows the public to sound off on and grade city and county departments, individual employees, classroom teachers, schools, and other areas of local government.

Founders Tony and Paola Newell launched CityGrader in response to their own experiences in the building and construction industry.

“We’re both builders; we work together in a family business,” Tony Newell says. “In the course of 15 to 20 years of doing this, we had to deal with many building inspectors, code enforcement officers, and local government officials. We found oftentimes we were very frustrated with the difficulty of holding the bad one accountable and giving kudos to the ones who really outperform and do well. You don’t have many options either way. So, we thought there should be something public and controlled by a third-party that is completely independent that serves as almost a watchdog for local government.”

But Tony Newell says the idea has evolved from exclusively a review and accountability site to also become a forum for discussion on topics of interest in local government.

While the Tampa section is still in what Tony Newell describes as “pre-launch” mode, with social media promotion yet to start, the handful of entries cover policy-based issues such as Tampa’s consideration of using reclaimed water for drinking water supplies and Tampa Bay Water mulling the construction of a new pipeline.

“We wanted to create what we call a civic network, which is a social network devoted to civics,” Tony Newell says. “It’s for people who want to be engaged with local government, their cities, and their counties, and do it in an environment that’s conducive to those discussions, not something that’s so noisy like Facebook or something that’s so vast like Twitter. They can have a conversation on a platform that is designed to have that kind of conversation. That’s the direction we’re going with the site. That’s the plan.”

The user guidelines prohibit public employees and their family members from offering comments and also ban comments that denigrate a public official or employee and personal attacks.

“We kind of rely on people being able to apply the old smell test,” Tony Newell says. “It’s amazing how well that works. You can get a good sense if it’s an employee or someone’s relative. You can get a good sense if it’s just someone with an ax to grind.”

Public government bodies are able to purchase an agency account to access metrics on feedback and offer responses. The cities of Miami and Miami Beach have both made extensive use of the platform and installed CityGrader kiosks in city buildings for the public to offer feedback.

Tony Newell says an upgraded version 2.0 is in the works. It will allow users to receive scores of their own based on who interacts with their posts and how many “likes” they generate. There will also be a mobile app and governments will have the ability to engage the public to get geo-targeted feedback.

To learn more go to CityGrader.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather and the wealth of outdoor festivals.
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