City takes first step towards financial transparency

275-275-magnifying_glassConsumer reporters, investigators, community advocates, and individual citizens, rely on free public access to organized financial data from our government. The public needs real numbers presented in graphs and charts that provide clarity.

Transparency in government is a major initiative throughout the country. The 2009 Open Government Directive requires the public sector to “implement principles of transparency, participation and collaboration”.

The City of St Augustine uses a popular suite of government financial management software, published by Tyler Technologies, known as “Munis”. City financial records reside in Munis on a computer at City Hall. However, the “Citizen Transparency” application, recently licensed by the City, does not. Citizen Transparency is a hosted service introduced to Munis clients in 2014.

This solution does allow citizens to browse dynamic graphs and charts to view spending trends as well as detail level information such as payment dates and amounts via a public access website maintained by Tyler Technologies.

What that means is that the information available is not “real time”, the data is updated weekly with the most recent closing numbers. The weekly updating of the database and hosting of the additional website will not be done by City staff; the City will pay an additional recurring monthly fee to Tyler for those and other related services.

It is arguably better that Tyler is offering this service as a turn-key product, because the availability of “computer savvy” staff is infrequent. Open Books promises to provide unparalleled financial transparency and analysis tools. From a portal link on their website, the City of St Augustine can provide the public with easy access to government expenditure information for the current fiscal year, as well as a historical view of previous years.

Citizens and government officials alike can use the interactive site to search details of government spending by category, department, fund, government area and vendor. The detail of financial data within Open Books covers every level of government expenditures, from total spending by fiscal year to individual vendor payments. Municipalities also have the option to display their employee payroll, retiree pensions and revenue statement information.

Historic City News will provide additional details once the product is rolled out publicly on Monday.

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