Local Government Transparency
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is financial transparency?
Transparency is a broad term that, quite literally, means something that can be seen through. When we talk about transparency in terms of government spending, we are referring to government opening its books to the public so that taxpayers can see exactly where their money is going. Transparency ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently by ensuring all decisions are made in the open and on the record. Transparency means that citizens can review and question policymakers' decisions, examine documents, root out inefficiencies and hold officials accountable for the way tax dollars are spent.
2. What are the benefits of a website for a small city/county? We already make all of our financial documents available at the city hall/county courthouse. Is a website still necessary?
Technology — and the web in particular — has changed the expectations for customer service and government transparency at all levels. In a computer- and Internet-based society, government can no longer justify the money and time required to print reports. Publishing information online means no postage, no waiting for the mail, up-to-date documents and worldwide accessibility.
3. If we put these documents online, will anyone in our community read them?
Constituents feel that they pay for their government, and deserve to know how it spends their money. That philosophy is gaining traction. State and federal governments are increasingly making financial transparency a priority, opting to make many records freely accessible, rather than having the public file information requests. Posting financial information online builds trust among all constituents. Opening an entity's books invites citizens to comment on spending decisions and become involved in the decision-making process, which is a key ingredient of democracy.
4. Will posting complex budgets and financial reports confuse people further?
By demystifying state spending and providing easy access to those numbers we ensure greater accountability to the public.
5. Is it possible to achieve transparency and still be mindful of confidentiality?
Transparency should not be confused with sharing confidential information. Information can be posted while still being sensitive to the protection of information deemed confidential by law.
6. As a small community we have limited staff and resources to build a website dedicated to transparency. What are some simple steps we can take? What resources are available to help me get these documents online?
Based on the resources of a community there are different first steps that can be taken towards financial transparency. Available online is a step-by-step guide, gleaned from success stories and tips from other local government entities in Texas. For a list of technology tool options used by communities, visit tools-others-have-used section of our site.
7. How much of a time commitment is required to create and maintain a transparent site?
Most local governments report that it takes very little time to post documents on their website. The budget and financial report are annual documents, and are usually available in electronic format, or can readily be converted into an electronic format, such as pdf., that can be easily posted online. Other documents may need to be posted more frequently, such as the check register. Recurring documents, such as the check register, will require more time due because confidential data must be removed before posting. The time and cost may vary, depending on the number of checks processed and complexity of the accounting system used.