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May 10, 2016

Mayor Kenney shakes up Philly's Office of Innovation and Technology

Move comes after report suggesting chief information officer is unpopular among some employees

Government Data
Philadelphia City Hall Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Philadelphia City Hall

Following a report that suggested Philadelphia's Chief Information Officer Charlie Brennan's management style has not been well-received among some of his employees, Mayor Jim Kenney moved two of the office's teams to another city office.

Kenney announced Tuesday that the current two-person Open Data team and seven-person team working on overhauling the city's website — aka the Alpha team — will move from the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), which was created by Kenney to enhance the efficiency of city government.

These teams are now combined under one name: Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation. They will be overseen by Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski.

Rebecca Rhynhart, head of the CAO, said by putting the team directly under her office, it elevates the importance of their work.

"My purview is to advance efficiency and effectiveness, but also to modernize the processes focused on the user experience," Rhynhart told PhillyVoice, noting Open Data efforts and revamping the city's website fall under this mission.

The decision comes two days after a piece in Philadelphia magazine suggested that Kenney's choice to head the OIT was not popular among some of the office's employees.

According to the report, Brennan's appointment to the office has caused a large culture change. This included a shift in the type of work taken on by the Alpha team. Per the report:

But under the new regime, employees have been suspended for working remotely (Chief Information Officer Adel Ebeid allowed it). The Alpha team has been waylaid with more rudimentary tasks, and the overall vibe has turned “toxic,” according to a number of employees I spoke to. Another said it felt like 1984 — not just because of the oversight and mistrust, but also due to the throwback nature of the work. “You have good people who feel they’re giving their all to a particular project and conversing all the time over Slack and email and working into the night and really pushing,” says Gabriel Farrell, one of the recently departed. “Then, conversely, you have people wondering where someone is because they’re not back from lunch at 1:30.”

But during her discussions with the Open Data duo and Alpha, Rhynhart said issues with their current management were not discussed.

"The focus of the meeting was the organizational change."

Mark Headd, former head of the OIT, gave the move a favorable review on Twitter.

According to, the move will ultimately benefit Brennan as it allows him to focus on more of what he's comfortable with:

It’s a move that reflects Brennan’s interests and expertise — he’s more focused on updating the city’s legacy systems than running an innovation team — as well as Rhynhart’s stated goal of making the city “more efficient and effective.” She also oversees Andrew Buss’s innovation management team, which used to be housed at OIT.

In addition to being closer to the old way of doing things, the new structure is similar to what other municipal governments, like New York, are doing, Rhynhart said.

"The action of transforming city government, whether that be the website or changing processes — it's not done out of the IT department in many places."