City of Muscatine, Iowa Strengthens Public Trust and Bolsters Internal Accountability with OpenGov
POPULATION: 24,000 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $55 Million
Using OpenGov, Muscatine’s team communicates its budgeted revenue allocation using dynamic visuals.
Muscatine transitioned from a paper budget book to a digital PDF version, then to a searchable online PDF, and finally adopted OpenGov to publish its budget data in an interactive format. “Now we have all of our financial information online – not only the budget and year-to-date expenditures, but an open checkbook and many other features so everyone can see what’s going on,” Mandsager said.
Everyone included the Council members, who benefitted from real-time demonstrations of current and historical spending. When one Council member, for example, questioned what appeared to be a substantial expense, in real-time, the finance staff was able to show that the expenditure was $80,000, not $1 Million. “You could show the actual expense and also how much we had spent on that line historically, so it helped to tell our story,” Lueck said.
Local newspaper reporters also used the platform to research an article on legal expenses and gather accurate information without active assistance from Muscatine’s staff. “Whatever the topic may be, it lets people dig into the information themselves, and they don’t have to rely on us,” Lueck said. “It certainly saves us time, but equally important, that information comes directly from our financial software into the system, so everyone has access to that raw data and can draw their own conclusions or ask better-informed questions.”
OpenGov Helps Increase Public Trust
Muscatine’s public-facing OpenGov transparency portal garnered significant public interest. Web usage reports show that people are spending 11 to 12 minutes average on the site per session, which shows that they are spending time exploring and digging into the data.
Muscatine’s landing page features an OpenGov User Guide and a tutorial video that introduces people to the platform’s capabilities. In determining what information to feature on the site, staff sought to answer common questions and to proactively position the City’s message and story. Issues and interests included fire staffing and overtime trends as well as snow and ice removal costs. The open checkbook is also popular with vendors who can now look and see how much business the town is doing with industry competitors and at what pricing.
“For me, the biggest benefit to date is having all of our information out there, straight from the financial software so people can dig into the information and create reports themselves,” Mandsager said. “For people to know that they can see the very same information that Council members and staff have is a really big thing in this town, and one of the easiest sells we have in gaining public trust,” Communications Manager Kevin Jenison added.