According to a Bismarck Tribune report last week, North Dakota’s spending transparency website has recently been ranked 34th in the nation. As stated in the Tribune article:
“The website allows the public to peer into the state’s finances by examining spending by individual agencies, payments to vendors and purchasing card expenses, among other tools.”
It’s worth noting that while the state’s website was rated with “above-average functionality and searchability”, it has “deficiencies in its economic development subsidy reporting”. So, with an overall C-, there’s room for improvement.
On the heels of the Tribune article, it was reported yesterday that Morton County is adding itself to a list of local governments that are utilizing OpenGov. This is a cloud-based software that can be utilized to make the financial information of government entities available to the public via the internet. In a nutshell, it provides an increased level of transparency at the local level.
Cass County was the first county in the state to make the move to OpenGov in 2014. Since that time, McKenzie County, Fargo, and Grand Forks have done the same. Such transparency means easier accessibility for those who may be interested in such information. When it comes to finances, individuals no longer have to drive to these county or city offices, make phone calls, or send in record requests. They can just access the information they’re seeking through the internet.
Transparency comes with a price though. When it comes to the state’s system, the initial cost was $231,000— and that’s not including staff time. Annual cost to the state runs about $42,500. In the case of OpenGov – used by Morton County and others – it’s about $7,000/year.
Patrick Henry once said:
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
I agree. In and of itself, I believe that increased transparency creates an environment for better government. But perhaps the true value of it can only be measured by the involvement of the people and whether we utilize it or not. Otherwise, it’s money spent with little or nothing gained.