The recent news in the Oakland Press about the City of Oak Park’s former clerk siphoning $433,000 out of the city’s coffers over a 2-year period made me think … would a higher level of transparency by the city have been able to thwart such an incident?
Within the Munetrix toolbox is a Dynamic Check Register that takes the transparency discussion to the next level. Local governments have the ability to export their vendor accounts payable files directly from their accounting software into a publicly accessible, searchable database. Some refer to this as “Open Checkbook” but it by itself is only a fraction what it takes to truly be transparent.
If such a system were in place at Oak Park, is it possible a citizen, employee or other interested party would have noticed some red flags and raised their hand to inquire? The alleged crime included 54 separate payments over a two-year period. Wouldn’t someone have recognized a mounting series of “payables” to an individual with the same last name as the clerk? Taking the argument one step further, is it also possible that if the clerk knew this sort of information was readily available and transparent to the public, she would have had second thoughts about even trying it in the first place?
There are no guarantees of course, but someone who wants to try and beat the system would have to work a lot harder than the clerk in Oak Park allegedly did. My guess is that a large percentage of those who would even think of such a dastardly deed would be discouraged from acting on it when check registers are built right into a city’s transparency system.
Transparency – probably one of the most overused and ill-defined words in today’s vocabulary has many benefits when talking about sharing information at the state and local government levels in particular.
For the minimal cost it takes to be transparent, an ROI is guaranteed. In the case of Oak Park – hundreds of thousands of dollars could potentially have been saved. For other municipalities, a good transparency solution can greatly reduce the amount of time spent on FOIA requests – saving them and the citizens asking for information both time and money.
Of course, there are no silver bullets – but we have to start somewhere. And it has to start with accessibility to the information behind the data. Static documents and PDFs are not viable solutions for transparency anymore. Let’s turn data into information, which is what Munetrix does.