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.

Mug Shot of Former Deputy City Clerk 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.

Just saying.

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.

Bob Kittle

  • Allen Carlson
    2:32 PM, 21 October 2015

    Your article makes a good point and I wonder if any one does check their check register. We have multiple verification points. Some by law and some just in case a person has slipped through. the bottom line. The board is given a copy of the bills list before each board meeting to approve the list. The checks are then created and the checks as well as the check register is given to the clerk. The clerk signs each check then the treasurer signs each check. The checks are then merged with the invoices in the treasurers dept before they are inserted in an envelope and mailed. There are a several verification points in the process. The board has a visual check, The clerk has the register when he signs the checks and he does a visual inspection of each check The treasurer does the same, Treasury has to have a valid invoice verified by the purchasing dept for every check before it is mailed and the check register that is in the board agenda is also on the web for verification and public view. There is a check number verification process after the checks have been cashed. The bottom line is that no one person or department has total control ever. This sounds like a lot of work but you have to go through all of the above steps just to mail a check anyway. We just go through sever different dept’s and management levels which include the purchasing function, accounting, accounting supervisor, board, clerk, treasurer and treasurers staff.

    • Bob Kittle
      6:15 PM, 22 October 2015

      Alan – it does not surprise me that Hamburg Township has a handle on this. From subscribing to our Munetrix Transparency service when you weren’t even eligible for revenue sharing to such a detailed description of the process used to assure nothing like this happens there, a lot of municipalities could learn from you folks. Hope to see you back someday!

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