Purcellville moves toward greater transparency

© Virginia News Group

The Purcellville Town Council took concrete steps toward government openness by voting in favor of budget transparency software and considering an efficiency audit during its Sept. 13 meeting.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the use of OpenGov financial transparency software to more clearly share Purcellville’s budget and operating expenses with the public.

Dozens of other local governments, including the Town of Leesburg, use the software on their websites. OpenGov allows citizens to search how every budget dollar is spent through a chart-driven interface. The system can also show non-financial data, such as water and sewage consumption. All of this information can be shared via social media, as well.

The software has reduced FOIA requests by half in many towns, OpenGov account executive Eric DiProspero said.

“We help governments share and compare financial plans internally… as well as externally,” DiProspero said. “This is really a snapshot of Purcellville.”

Because of a General Services Administration contract, Purcellville will only pay $26,932.50 for a three-year period with OpenGov.

“It is an investment in trust,” Mayor Kwasi Fraser said.

While Purcellville has toyed with plans to conduct efficiency audits on one or more of its departments since 2014, the council kept postponing, ostensibly because it did not know which departments to audit and because it wanted to pick the best independent firm.

“When you hear audit, anyone on the staff kind of shivers,” Council Member Ryan Cool said.

However, Cool agreed an audit doesn’t necessarily mean staff cuts.

“These are not just about cutting expenses,” Council Member Doug McCollum said. “[Audits] can also recommend hiring people … increasing expenses.”

Town staff proposed three different kinds of audits: One run by the employees of each department, another run by a local government reform commission composed of staff and citizens and another by an outside firm. An outside firm would be the most expensive at around $30,000, but it would also provide the most objective viewpoint.

Several council members, including Nedim Ogelman and Chris Bledsoe, leaned toward the latter option.

“[This audit] has to be independent of us,” Ogelman said. “We need to embrace and look for opportunities for improvement.”

The council will wait to make a final decision until a future meeting so members will have time to decide on the scope and kind of audit.

By OpenGov
Published: September 10, 2016
Source: Purcellville moves toward greater transparency