If you’ve ever seen the Will Farrell movie Talladega Nights then you’ll know the quote “if you’re not first, you’re last.”

It doesn’t make much sense, but apparently the city of Palo Alto, who was recently recognized by the Center for Digital Government as the #1 Digital City in America for a city with population of less than 75,000 people, took it to heart anyway.

“This year’s top-ranked cities improved transparency with open government initiatives and access to city services via mobile apps. The cities eliminated waste and enhanced service levels using agile project management, and reduced costs and improved services through advanced analytics and performance measures,” said Todd Sander, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Government.

“The top digital cities are leaders in open data and transparency efforts, as well as innovators.”

It’s hard not to expect such an award from a city that is the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

“Palo Alto has employed technology to both provide information as an open and transparent government, as well as to engage with the community,” said City Manager James Keene. “This award confirms Palo Alto’s place as a digital leader and recognizes its importance as a city that strives to integrate a vision for local government within the global economy.”

In 2012, city leaders developed a three year information technology plan with a goal to build and enable a digital city.

It’s the reason the city hired a Chief Information Officer in 2011.

“We’re trying a lot of new things at City Hall from experimenting with social collaboration, to publishing important City data in open formats, to engaging with communities online,” said Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental. “There is still a lot of do, but our new technologies and capabilities are making a big difference in how we work on a daily basis with the community.”

California Forward has talked to many Californians over the years and they inevitably say that they want a government they can trust above most anything else. It’s why transparency and accountability are such linchpins to our philosophy here.

Real accountability begins with empowering the public with easy access to information and budgeting of our civic leaders. The city of Palo Alto appears to be leading the charge to develop a better relationship with its residents.

In fact, California Forward first reported on the City in August 2012 when it launched its open data initiative. Months later in October 2012, the city was at it again with its Open Budget tool, which California Forward also highlighted. (Watch the video)

In June 2013, the City created a smart phone app, PaloAlto311, another California Forward story.

Most recently, Palo Alto upgraded Open City Hall platform for citizens to participate in city discussions. It also began engaging community members using Nextdoor.

“Smart cities will be increasingly reliant on innovative ways of using technology,” added Keene.  “Adding efficiencies to processes, enhanced collaboration and cost containment are some of the essential and increasing qualities that we’ll look to technology to help achieve.”

“We’ve adopted new approaches in government including lean methods of project delivery. It has been an internal challenge for our information technology team as well. But we have had good outcomes and the team is proud of its accomplishments. There is a long list ahead of us, but we’re in a good position today to take on those challenges,” said Reichental.

Five other California cities made the list, according to population category.

Congrats to Palo Alto and the other cities for pushing the envelope and bringing people closer to their government.