Reporting

New transparency portal for special districts launches today

November 21, 2013 by Christopher Nelson

When I was a kid, the word trasparency stuck in my head from Star Trek iV: The Voyage Home when Spock reveals the secret to creating transparent aluminum to a bewildered scientist in the 1980s.

Now in my adult life, when I explain that I work for an organization that promotes transparency and openness across the state of California, most people have the same expression that scientist did.

It's really quite simple, however: either we know what our government is doing with our money and what our elected official do with other people's (or corporations') money, or we don't. Either they make decisions in the open with public input, or they make them behind closed doors and don't share the results with those who elected them to office.

Our reporting on the issue has been extensive. To name just a few, we interviewed LA City Controller Ron Galperin on his efforts to make Los Angeles a more open city, we highlighted a massive open data conference in Berkeley, and we consistently champion Palo Alto's efforts to bring government closer to the people by making information not just accessible, but easily accessed.

We have also put a mountain of effort into our own Transparency Portal, which details thousands of local government records in one place, organized by county and zip code for anyone to peruse.

Today, we expand that Portal as a tool to include special districts. From the press release:

Today California Forward (CA Fwd) and the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) have launched a first-of-its-kind portal providing data and information on more than 1,100 California special districts. The new tool located on CA Fwd’s Transparency Portal (http://transparency.cafwd.org/portal/) allows the general public to search and view background information and financial data on special districts throughout the state. The portal features individual district pages with additional information on its local services and history, and also includes a direct link to CSDA’s “Putting Special Districts on the Map” project.

Jim Mayer, the President & CEO of CA Fwd and a member of our leadership council, had this to say about the new launch:

Local governments in California have a growing role in how our state functions and delivers essential services. They are also under increasing scrutiny. We have developed the Transparency Portal as a unique bridge between these agencies and the public, one that makes it easier for citizens to find key information, and one that offers the agencies themselves a platform to inform their constituents of the unique challenges they face, and communicate the solutions.

The importance of this effort cannot be understated. Often times parsing data by county or city isn't granular enough. With this new tool, critical data points on revenue, expenses and reserves for the last three years detailing the financing of 21 different kinds of special districts, from airport and hospital regions to flood control and library services, is presented complete with glossaries and charts. All at the finger tips of anyone who wants or needs to know this information.

But real transparency isn't static either in form or effort, it is dynamic in both. As such, this tool will evolve. Special districts will be able to contribute additional information down the line, from capital outlays to other factors that may have influenced district finances in a given year, to ensure that the picture is always as complete as it can be.

“We are extremely proud of the partnership with California Forward, and for the bright future of this project,” said Neil McCormick, executive director of CSDA. “Our districts are raising the bar for transparency on multiple fronts, and this portal is an opportunity to both highlight that work, as well as broaden the awareness – and understanding – of the service our districts provide, and the resources involved in that service delivery.”

The project is supported by an Advisory Group composed of special district executives, financial officers and other public budgeting experts. It is now live right here.

Categories: Transparency