Jeffco posts expenses, checkbook online
JEFFERSON COUNTY: The county’s online transparency project came of age this week when credit card spending and contract information were posted for the first time.
Jeffco’s Transparency Initiative project first went online in October and since has been developing the site.
With Thursday’s update, Jeffco became one of only a handful of Colorado government entities to post line-item expense account charges, contracts and the county’s checkbook. All the information is in a searchable database available to anyone with access to the Web.
“I’m confident it will result in better government. One of my goals for transparency is to have more citizen involvement,” said Jim Moore, county administrator. “More citizen involvement is better government, that’s just bottom-line for me.”
Moore said widening access to public records should increase government accountability and make it more efficient.
“People are going to see things we don’t see, people who have a different perspective and people who are critical of how we do things. That’s going to lead to improvements and better cheaper, faster ways of doing things,” Moore said.
Just knowing their expenses will be published online should encourage public employees to be thriftier with credit card spending, Moore said.
“This was my idea and I find myself thinking twice before I make a purchase now. I just think that’s human nature and I think that’s good.”
And vendors looking to increase business can search the county’s contract purchases to see how much the county pays for similar products or services. Moore agreed that could lead to future savings for taxpayers.
Other governments, including Lakewood, have contacted Moore about Jeffco’s Transparency Initiative and the National Association of Cities and Counties asked Jeffco to compile a presentation on the project for the group’s annual conference in Nashville later this month.
”We’re pretty proud of it,” Moore said. “The only ‘down-side’ is people being hesitant or afraid of criticism. But I believe the best defense to criticism is transparency. Either we are able to explain how we are doing things or why we are doing things to people’s satisfaction or we’re going to have to make improvements.”
Transparency advocates, who this year persuaded the legislature to post the state’s checkbook online via the Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act, believe the county’s Transparency project is a model for other governments to follow.
“I think this sets a good standard for other cities and counties to follow and to find ways to improve on. The main mission here is to give us accountability and save money,” said Natalie Menten of Lakewood, who has been at he forefront of Colorado’s grass-roots transparency movement.
Amy Oliver-Cooke, who lobbied the legislature for greater transparency on behalf of the Independence Institute, was impressed with Jeffco’s willingness to take the lead role.
“It is impressive to me that Jeffco is certainly more than willing to put that out there online,” she said. “Jeffco respects taxpayers enough to provide that information to show taxpayers where their money is being spent.
“The disappointing thing is that the Department of Transportation won’t do it and we have yet to see what’s coming out of the state of Colorado. But it appears that Jefferson County is able to do it and hopefully it will be a trend for everybody else going forward.”
Gov. Bill Ritter signed the Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act into law in June, establishing the Transparency Options Project (TOP) to implement online access to state government’s spending and revenue records by January.
The Act, House Bill 1288, was compiled by State Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Dist. 49, and co-sponsored by State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Jeffco.
The Act is the only one of three transparency bills to clear the legislature last session.
SB 57, which Democrats killed in the House Education Committee on a party-line vote, would have required school districts to compile their spending and revenue in an online searchable database. Districts and charter schools with no web access would have been exempt.
Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Dist. 20 sponsored that bill.
Another bill, SB 236, never cleared committee. It would have required school districts to conduct at least one public hearing before building a school, providing neighbors of the school site a chance to comment.
Menten, whose Website www.nataliementen.com, was used as an example of an inexpensive searchable database during legislative hearings, said she expects the issue to arise in a number of bills when the legislature reconvenes.
“We have at least half a dozen things we would like work on for this next session, and we are lining up bill sponsors now,” Menten said.
Among the transparency priorities are the state’s rapidly growing number of special districts as well as school districts, which receive much of their funding from the state.
“With 1,600 special districts in Colorado, we need some work” to track their spending and income, Menten said.