Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday that Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief information officer since 2018, will leave the city government. Wheeler told StateScoop he’s taken on a limited role with the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services.
Kenney also announced that Chief Operating Officer Sandra Carter had been installed as interim CIO, effective on Monday.
Wheeler leaves behind a legacy of new digital services for the city and extensive strategic work. Under his leadership, the Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology released the “SmartCityPHL” Roadmap, a 25-page guide and timeline for the city’s ongoing and future technology projects. The office and several other city departments this year launched Permit Navigator, an online tool designed to make it easier to find information about the types of approvals needed for residential and business construction permits.
He also oversaw the release of Philadelphia’s first Digital Equity Plan – a five-year strategic plan to close the digital divide.
“And we’re accomplishing objectives on that. It’s not just a piece of paper that we talk about. We’re actually doing the work,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he’s most proud of cybersecurity initiatives across city government during his tenure, which he said enabled agencies to defend against “some serious attacks” over the past five years.
When asked what he might have done differently as CIO, Wheeler said he wished he’d had more time to think about and enact usage policies for a network of video surveillance cameras the Philadelphia Police Department uses during criminal investigations. Wheeler told StateScoop that during the first phases of the SmartPHL plan, his department was asked to expand the number of surveillance cameras, a project that in many cities across the U.S. has caused concerns about privacy, over-policing and racial discrimination.
More cameras are on the way to Philadelphia: A financial and strategic plan covering a period from 2023 to 2027 allocated about $5 million to install more cameras and operate the surveillance network.
“What I think we need to have, and what I’ll continue to push for in my own professional capacity, are some types of valuations or triggers by which cities can then say it’s time to pull these back,” Wheeler said. “The crime rates are down. So should the cameras come down? I know that not all of the elected officials agree with me. They don’t think that’s an issue, but I personally do think it’s one that we should tackle and have a policy on now and not wait until the questions arise about whether we’re over surveilling some blocks and not others.”
Wheeler previously served as the city’s deputy CIO and its first chief geographic information officer, overseeing the release of public digital tools to visualize and use city property data.
“Mark has been a visionary leader in moving OIT from a support role in City operations to a leading role in technology transformation and strategic planning,” Kenney said in a news release. “He played a critical part in key public initiatives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mobilizing to remote work and information security was absolutely essential. I am thankful for his leadership and passion for modernization during his tenure.”
In addition to his new, limited role with GSA — which will be focused on data and artificial intelligence projects within the federal government — Wheeler said he plans to do some consulting in the “smart city” realm, barring any conflicts of interest.
“I’ve been incredibly proud and honored to be CIO, especially during the pandemic. And I felt incredibly supported — inside city government, as well as within our tech community,” he said. “I encourage anybody stepping into these roles for the first time to find those groups because you’re going to need them.”