A recent report from the Georgia Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that the City of Atlanta’s spending transparency is not up to par with current standards. The report analyzed thirty of the country’s largest cities’ transparency practices. Atlanta was ranked in the bottom five for spending transparency receiving a failing score of only 46.
Atlanta was docked because it doesn’t offer anything above and beyond its standard budget documents. Seventeen out of thirty of the cities studies provided residents with online access to “checkbook level” details of expenditures. Atlanta was one of the five failing cities that provided no online checkbook for the cities expenses, which inhibits citizens from knowing what their tax dollars are going to fund.
The report shows that transparency websites cost little to start up, and increase efficiency and ultimately save money in the long run. One of the major benefits to such sites is that it reduces the need for cities to process as many open records requests. Making the information available for wide consumption also helps keep officials accountable to the public. The argument often used in the State Legislature is that disclosure is enough to maintain ethical standards. Having this data on a city level would be one step closer to having a more transparent city, and helping residents trust their local government.
In a press release Laura Murray, Advocate for the Georgia PIRG Education Fund, highlighted how important these standards are saying, “City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health. Spending transparency can help Atlanta’s population hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent.”
In order for Atlanta to increase its transparency rating it would need to implement some of the suggestions outlined by Georgia PRIG, namely:
- Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.
- Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.
- Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.
- Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.
- Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.
- Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.
You can read the full report here.