Newly elected City Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th cist.) might just be the most technologically savvy politician in the city.
It’s a role the councilman found himself seemingly thrust into after his Web site’s servers crashed when his “Bad Neighbor Initiative” — a campaign to help fight blight throughout his district that got national attention on the Internet earlier this year — was picked up by news aggregator sites, like Yahoo.com.
He’s also created a “Bad Neighbor Map” — on his Web site www.bobbyhenon.com — that shows problem properties throughout his district and the impact they make on the property values of homes in the community.
This week, Henon will expand his office’s Internet outreach with The CityHall App, an iPhone application that will link his constituents directly to his office.
It’s an app his office has created at no cost to taxpayers.
“They (constituents) don’t feel connected to their elected officials anymore,” Henon said during an interview in his City Hall office.
The app, he said, is a new attempt to connect his office to everyone (at least, every iPhone user, though an Android app is also planned) in his Council district, which starts around Allegheny Avenue and expands into the Northeast, including much of Port Richmond and all of Bridesburg.
Henon said the app should launch this week – as the Star went to press, it was under review by Apple – and will allow users to contact Henon’s office with problems they find throughout the community.
As the only Council member with his own app, Henon said, he wants the program to help reconnect City Hall with the people of Philadelphia.
“I want them to say, ‘This official is there for us,’” said Henon.
What the app will offer is a simple, intuitive method for sharing neighborhood concerns with the councilman’s office.
With the app, anyone in Henon’s district — or even outside of his district, since his office will forward issues from other districts to the appropriate office — can report a wide array of quality of life issues.
Here’s how the app works: Once a user has the app, he can submit a “new case” to Henon’s office — the cases are sent directly to his six-member office team that manages every case through a constituent relations manager program.
Users can also look at the status of cases they already sent and dig through a list of cases recently handled by Henon’s office.
With a new case, the app allows a user to take a photo of the issue — graffiti, a pothole, a blighted building or any other concern — then write a detailed description of the problem.
Using the iPhone’s own GPS (global positioning system), the user can tag the case with the exact location of the issue.
Within seconds, the case will be logged into the constituent staff member at Henon’s office, where his team will work to resolve the issue.
“To your liking or not, the issue will be resolved,” he said. “This will allow us to give you a quicker, more friendly response.”
All cases will be kept in a log on the app, so users can see what they have submitted in the past. When an issue is resolved, the user will get an alert and a detailed response to how the problem was addressed.
Users can even check a list of problems other users have submitted on the app, to see if their issue was already submitted by someone else.
What did a tool like this cost taxpayers?
Not a dime, said Henon.
Instead, he used money from his campaign fund — he wasn’t sure how much, because billing wasn’t complete — and he will donate the program to the city for the use of all Council members who want it.
“This is what Bobby wanted to do. It’s all from scratch,” said Micah Mahjoubian, the councilman’s director of online media, as he gave a demonstration of the app.
Within instants, Mahjoubian could create a case on his iPhone and the issue would be received by the councilman’s office through this app.
But even if the cases are sent at lightning speed, just how quickly could users expect a response from his office?
Henon wasn’t sure.
The office will not become a 24/7 shop just to support the app, but his team is ready for the added workload and they’re looking forward to hearing about concerns that users share on the app, he said.
“City Hall at your fingertips, that’s the catchphrase,” said Henon. “We are going to be fully prepared for this…you will get a response from someone in my office.”
Along with the submission abilities, the app is also connected to Facebook and Twitter so you can gloat to your online friends about how you were helped personally by Henon’s staff.
There’s also a “call button” on the app that will instantly call Henon’s office, if a user would personally like to personally discuss an issue. ••
The CityHall app should be available on the iTunes app store this week.
Star managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org