> blog >

Huntsville local government-related project starmap

posted 2022-09-19; last updated 2023-12-19

Table of Contents

This page lists long-term projects that are related to my Huntsville, AL government work (policy advocacy, transparency, or anything else). Since I don't live in Huntsville anymore, a lot of these projects are on hold indefinitely, but if you're interested in further details about any of these projects (because you want to try them yourself, or otherwise), please reach out!

It's called a "starmap" because calling it a "roadmap" would imply that I've made detailed plans on how to complete each of these projects. That is not the case – at the time of writing, most of these projects have very little planning or implementation work behind them.

If you have an idea for one of these projects, or want to help make them a reality, please please contact me via email at

Preliminary Agenda Tool

The most complete project on this page! Available here, it shows you items on upcoming city council agendas before they are made final.

This is possible because Legistar (the city's agenda tracking tool) has an API which exposes more information than is made available in the calendar view. None of the information on the preliminary agenda tool is non-public – all I'm doing is presenting public information in a more easily digestable form.

Happy to share code if you're interested; eventually I'll also clean it up and publish it on GitHub (as will hopefully be the case with every project here).

Finance Data Parser

Every two weeks, the finance department submits a long PDF document containing details about every expense paid to a vendor by the city (among other things). The goal here is to parse out this data from the PDFs and append it to a SQLite database for consumption via Datasette.

For this to be the most useful, we will also need a mapping of account numbers to city departments so we know who is spending what.

Interchange Specs

Well-defined interoperable formats for data about government actions. I wrote some draft specs (unpublished) for this; if you're interested in what they look like please reach out. I don't think they are suitable for use in their current form, otherwise I'd publish them here.

City Action Tracking System

...or "cats" for short (ahaha) is my grand vision of a unified database for tracking all actions/decisions made by any boards/commissions/councils in the city.


The most important/groundbreaking thing about this project is its ability to track relationships between lots of entities (as envisioned in this tweet). An explanation of this diagram is as follows. It is very dense, so sorry about that:


Notes can be taken on most objects in the system (although the diagram linked above only shows the potential to take notes on agenda items and matters).

At first, notes will probably be fairly limited, but I'd like to develop a system where you can sign in and take private notes (on agenda items / people / meetings / matters / actions / votes). Then, later, you could share these notes within a group (like a citizen journalism organization, or a group doing advocacy for a particular cause) or publicly.

This collaboration functionality has potential for abuse and needs a lot more risk analysis / control design before making it widely available.


All the relationships between entities described above are queryable (at least at a database level), so you can answer questions like this:

And more boring questions:

Other possibilities

Zoning Explorer

What if we the zoning ordinance was machine-readable? We'd be able to easily answer questions like:

Also, with a bit of GIS work (and consistent PPIN tracking on Board of Zoning Adjustment actions, and potentially some integration with the probate court deed filing system), we could track this data and answer these questions at the property level:

Text Explorer

A generalization of Zoning Explorer:

Some considerations here: