Ohio’s State and Local Governments Partner for the Most Ambitious Transparency Initiative in America
POPULATION: 11.6 Million | AGENCY TYPE: State | ANNUAL BUDGET: $69 Million
OhioCheckbook.com clearly presents each agency’s financial breakdown by year.
A Phased Approach
Treasurer Mandel, Auditor Yost, Deputy Treasurer Seth Metcalf, and the rest of the Treasurer’s office set out to solve Ohio’s transparency problem and restore citizen trust in government.
The team adopted a phased approach. During phase one, Ohio published salary data for state employees and school personnel online. Phase two promoted greater transparency in state-owned properties. Phase three shared state expenditure data.
It paid off. Today, U.S. PIRG’s Following the Money report ranks Ohio as first in the nation for financial transparency, earning the report’s first and only perfect score in 2016. As the report said, “Ohio’s site still leads the pack, with intuitive ‘Google-style’ search bars, options to instantly share interesting findings, and easily navigable ‘compare’ features that allow users to contextualize the data they are reviewing.”
Transparency Goes Local
Treasurer Mandel and Auditor Yost were not content opening the books for just Ohio’s state government, however. They wanted to take financial transparency further than anyone else had in the country.
They recognized that, in addition to state agencies, Ohio’s residents also interact with towns, cities, counties, schools, and special districts. Hard-earned tax dollars fund each of these entities. However, only 7 percent of Americans believe their local governments effectively share data, according to Pew.
Ohio decided to address this by providing over 4,000 local agencies with an online checkbook. In April 2015, the Treasurer’s office decided to partner with OpenGov – the market leader in government performance solutions – to build and deploy the checkbooks. Mandel sent a letter to more than 18,000 local government officials asking them to upload their financials online.
The initiative received widespread, rapid support from Ohio’s local governments – more than 100 agencies responded to Mandel’s letter within a week. Anthony Traficanti, Chair of the Board of Commissioners for Mahoning County, the first county to adopt checkbook, explained “This is about a common cause, and this is about doing what is right. Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, this is what we do for the taxpayers of this country.”
Each agency works with OpenGov directly to publish a searchable database of expenditures information from over the past several years. Residents can easily see expenditures by department, expense type, and more.
Ohio’s Checkbook Initiative Enjoys Rapid Success
Today, hundreds of local agencies have deployed OpenGov’s checkbook, with more joining each week. Here are just some of the benefits participating agencies have obtained:
Press coverage. When an agency launches its checkbook, local press frequently publish stories highlighting the agency’s success. For example, the Jackson County Times, wrote a story with the headline “Jackson County’s Spending Becomes More Transparent.” The article quoted several elected county officials. Good press isn’t just good optics. It sends a signal to residents that the agency takes trust and accountability seriously.
Reduced freedom of information requests. Embracing financial transparency reduces information requests, saving government staff valuable hours while simultaneously empowering citizens. Many of Ohio local agencies have reported these time savings.
Engaged residents. Thousands of residents have visited local government checkbook sites to explore data. Residents feel more informed on and engaged in their communities’ spending decisions than ever before.
Increased insights into vendor payments. Numerous cities have reported reviewing other agencies’ checkbooks when negotiating with vendors to ensure fair pricing. Vendors also use the data to offer competitive bids to local agencies. These examples demonstrate one advantage of a network: bringing hundreds of entities in the same state on a shared platform increases the benefits to each participant. The more entities on the platform the better.