(courtesy of the City of Bell)
Let’s play some word association. If I said, “City of Bell,” what are the first words that come to mind? For most Californians, answers would probably be one of the following: scandal, corruption, elected leaders, public funds.
Two years after the working-class city made national headlines, the City is once again in the spotlight. But this time, when you hear the word “Bell,” it can now be synonymous with the word “transparency.” Yup, you heard right. The Southern California city has jumped on the transparency bandwagon by launching an online tool that allows residents to review the city’s financial data.
“The city of Bell is committed to building trust with its citizens,” said Councilwoman Ana Maria Quintana.
The city partnered up with OpenGov to deliver the web based service. (California Forward recently produced a video on OpenGov.)
“At one point it was the most corrupt administration in the country,” said Zac Bookman, CEO of OpenGov. “Most of the old administration is in jail and the new administration is turning the page and opening their finances to the public and actually trying to get a better handle on the finances themselves through our software, we couldn’t be happier to help them.”
On the platform, citizens and city leaders can view the city’s historical financial information and current budget through visuals that present revenue and expenditure data in a structured format.
“Citizens and city leaders can drill on down to the object level, can review five year trend lines across all departments in the city, you can see the whole revenue picture, the revenue composition of the city, it’s incredibly robust,” said Bookman.
“Municipal finance is very complicated, the general ledger and data is very complicated. This is structured in a way that’s intelligible for the community and for the staff.”
Transparency is a two-fold process when it comes to government finances. Simply making the information available isn’t enough and the days of that alone gaining high transparency marks for a local government are quickly coming to an end.
The data must be smart in that it is located in one, easily-accessible place, is quickly queried and can be interpreted by someone who doesn’t work with such data for a living. In other words, the onus to empower citizens rest squarely on those who are providing the data. In the case of Bell, they have made good on that.
“OpenGov helps create a new level of transparency that clearly communicates how money flows through the city,” said Quintana.
The open financial data platform is just another example of the city’s efforts to increase public participation and understanding of the daily operations and finances. Earlier this year, the City did a complete haul of their website listing information on vendor contracts and other public records.
Bravo city of Bell, Bravo. It’s nice to see “the little engine that can” make such great strides.