- Kansas City, MO Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) Alexander Braszko will step down this month, while the city will close its innovation office and take a new direction with its smart city strategy, according to Government Technology and others.
- The city established an Emerging Technology Board (ETB) to serve as the decision-making body leading smart city efforts. The ETB will bring in more community partners and public input, the city's website says.
- Braszko started in the innovation officer position in early May, replacing outgoing CIO Bob Bennett. Bennett went on to launch a smart city consultancy, B2 Civic Solutions.
Kansas City has been heralded for being a smart city leader. Advancements include interactive kiosks, free public Wi-Fi downtown, smart streetlights, dynamic traffic signals and a smart sewer program,
The city welcomed a new mayor, Quinton Lucas, in August. The CIO is a mayor-appointed position, and it is not unusual for appointed positions to experience turnover when a new administration moves in. The innovation office closure also is not entirely surprising to those who heard Lucas' campaign message of taking a careful, measured approach to implementing smart city advances and spending a lot of time on testing. Lucas raised concerns about being reckless and impulsive, as well as about equity among neighborhoods.
Because he is at a private firm and not directly involved with the Kansas City government, Bennett could not provide Smart Cities Dive with details or speculate about the city's strategy change. However, he assures those worried about the shift that "the sky is not falling."
"Innovation is alive and well," he said. "The mayor is making an assessment."
Bennett noted that Braszko was instrumental in establishing the ETB, which allows innovation to be more embedded within city departments and enables more streamlined communication around smart city efforts.
"Alex established that board and the governance procedures in such a way to have the desired effect ... I'm confident things will work out. Cities never move backward. That's kind of a fallacy that a lot of people talk about," Bennett said.
The city's chain of command could influence how the new smart city strategy plays out. About a dozen people report to the mayor, but the city manager oversees nearly everyone else — and their funding. Mayor Lucas recently appointed an interim city manager, but the true direction of the smart city program likely won't become evident until an official city manager is appointed, Bennett said.
"If you really want to see what Kansas City is going to do, the next thing is to ask the city manager, 'Where do you see smart city initiatives going and where do they stack up with your priorities?'" he said.
The city may also decide to outsource some smart city projects to consultants. Bennett believes a trend could be emerging of public sector smart city and data-centric employees moving to the private sector, as he did. The private sector does not have to work around some of the constraints evident with local governments such as funding, pace of innovation and bureaucratic red tape.
"The intellectual freedom to be able to work on multiple phases of development is something that fuels creativity on my side," Bennett said.
At the time of publication, Kansas City's government had not responded to Smart Cities Dive's request for comment about Braszko's departure and the innovation office's closure.