By James Beaman
Two members of Atlanta City Council have launched an online survey to measure public interest in the city’s financial transparency.
The survey, launched by Councilwomen Felicia Moore and Mary Norwood, asks residents if they think all government expenditures should be made available to the public and published online.
“It started as me wanting access as a city official. It was met with strong pushback from the mayor,” said Moore. “I did more research, then I saw where Atlanta stands in comparison to other cities.”
Moore said a 2013 report from the United States Public Interest Research Group ranked 30 of the most populated cities in the United States in terms of their government’s financial transparency. The top three cities from first to third are Chicago, New York City and San Francisco. Atlanta found itself in the bottom five and was tied for the third worst with Detroit and St. Louis.
Moore says she wants to see greater financial transparency and checkbook-level spending information available to Atlanta residents.
“If it’s something the public cares about, then we’ll move forward,” said Moore. “If it’s not something the public cares about, it’s not worth putting the energy into it.”
Unlike Atlanta, 17 of the 30 most populated cities publish online databases with recipient-specific “checkbook-level” government expenditures, and most of them are searchable, PIRG reports.
Atlanta’s website provides its annual budgets, monthly financial reports and five-year plans. The website does not include checkbook-level detail, nor does it include lists of companies and nonprofits that receive taxpayer money.
The level of financial information provided online by other local cities varies.
Brookhaven publishes Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, annual budgets and monthly financial reports. The monthly financial reports include purchasing card transactions and checks to vendors. Sandy Springs publishes the city’s annual budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports.
Dunwoody publishes its Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, annual budgets, monthly financial reports, performance reports and a link to a financial data website that provides checkbook-level detail of government expenditures.
Bob Mullen, the director of communications for Dunwoody, said it’s important for the citizens of Dunwoody to be able to easily find the information they want about city government. “That’s the ultimate goal,” said Mullen. “We try to get tools in the hands of the citizens.”
The councilwomen’s survey can be found at marynorwood.com/transparency-survey.