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ICYMI: Baltimore's New CTO Starts Work Next Week

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, July 17 2012

The city of Baltimore is getting a new chief technology officer next week. Chris Tonjes is starting Monday after more than five years as the Chief Information Officer for the Washington, D.C. public library system.

Tonjes succeeds Rico Singleton, who resigned in February after an audit in New York alleged that he sought a job for his girlfriend at security software company McAfee after it signed a lucrative contract with New York State.

While at the public library system, Tonjes oversaw digital inclusion programs that trained low-income DC residents on how to use computers. He also implemented broadband access to the Internet throughout the city's libraries, and created a library app.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake launched an open data initiative in Baltimore last February with a data portal powered by Socrata. But there's been little further movement on that front, notes Dave Troy, a local tech entrepreneur.

"Everyone's hopeful that this is a chance to reboot," he says. He characterized Singleton's efforts as "sporadic at best."

Tonjes is stepping into a politically-charged situation at his new job. A Baltimore Sun editorial recently criticized the Mayor's office for a lack of transparency in a deal with a local consulting firm that saddled the administration with expensive VOIP phones that could have been purchased more cheaply. The city's Inspector General is reportedly investigating the situation.

Troy also wonders what's going to happen to the chief data officer position that was created under Singleton's tenure. The hiring of Lillian Buie for the position mystified the local tech community because she appeared to be a marketing person, reported the Baltimore Brew in March. The Brew is an independent online news outlet covering local issues.

An e-mail sent to the Mayor's office asking about the status of Buie was not returned at the timing of this post.

"It's not tenable to say 'transparency' out of one corner of your mouth, and on the other hand not do it," Troy said. "The real test for [Tonjes] is going to be how he engages with the community around open government."