I recently attended a meetup by Open Government Chicago(-land), a local open government / open data advocacy and networking group. The meetup was titled Process and Products Around the Chicago Municipal Code and it was probably one of the best meetups I have been to on these topics. There was a bunch of speakers that included the Chicago city clerk, Susana Mendoza, and Carl Malamud, the open law data activist (PublicResource.org), as well as a number of others.
The highlight of the evening was probably hearing Carl Malamud blasting away (as he should) at the private entities that develop model codes and there attempts to fight the concept that a model code that is adopted as law becomes public domain. It was also interesting to hear Waldo Jaquith talk about his recent projects (with funding by the Knight Foundation), especially his new plan for a U.S. Open Data Institute.
While it was great to hear my local elected city clerk be supportive of the efforts of open government data activists, it was frustrating to hear them contradict themselves. On the one hand, they described their duties to publish the law how crucial the task of codification was (i.e., how lawsuits have been won or lost on the placement of a comma), yet they vaguely claimed they could not possibly put a bulk version of the law on a website themselves and not address why they choose to out-source codification of the code to a private vendor (American Legal Publishing Corporation). As someone who works at a private publisher that independently codifies the code of all 50 states (mostly because of the wait time involved in waiting for official codifications to be released), I think I have a good understanding of the resources and cost involved in that type of work and I can’t see any reason the city could not do this work itself.