Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Frivolous Lawsuit by Shadowy Astroturf Group threatens to Derail Community Grid in Syracuse

Image of the I-81 viaduct through the City of Syracuse viewed from the northern part of Downtown Syracuse.
I-81 and I-690 interchange at Burnett Ave and McBride Drive looking South down I-81. July 20, 2018. N. Scott Trimble | N. Scott Trimble |

It’s hard to read news coverage of the recent lawsuit brought by the group “Renew 81 for All” and not see the parallels to the election denialism movement fostered by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. 

For them, the outcome of a free and fair election in 2020 will always be viewed as illegitimate, not because of data to substantiate claims of real problems, but rather because the outcome was not what they wanted. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit backed by Renew 81 have something in common with the former President’s supporters. They view the 14-year process to weigh the impact of different options to replace I-81 through Syracuse as flawed. Not because they have solid arguments to support their claims, as detailed in a recent editorial, but rather because their preferred outcome was not chosen.

These plaintiffs, and the shadowy group that backs them, conflate “being heard” with getting their way. No process, regardless of how exhaustive, will be considered legitimate if it doesn’t produce the outcome they want. And like the President’s, the baseless claims of Renew 81 are a threat to our democracy. 

If frivolous claims of election fraud can weaken essential democratic institutions, then the frivolous claims made by Renew 81 can similarly erode confidence in the administrative processes our state uses to resolve competing interests. We should insist on fair and open processes by our state and federal leaders, and we should dismiss baseless claims against these processes by self-interested parties out of hand.

Democracy deserves no less.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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