All politics is local, right? Mail ballot municipal elections already are underway, so late last week I decided it was finally time to ask the Arvada city council candidates on my ballot what they think of the idea of detailed financial transparency. Below I’ve pasted the message I emailed to the two at-large candidates and the two district candidates and what I learned:
As an Arvada citizen, homeowner, and taxpayer, one of my key issues is promoting greater financial transparency in government. What is your position on this issue? Specifically, I would hope that the city of Arvada opens up more detailed financial transactions online for citizens to review in an easy-to-use, searchable fashion. A great example is what Fort Collins is doing (http://www.fcgov.com/openbook/). Almost as good is what Greeley has done: regularly posting check registers on its site (http://www.greeleygov.com/Finance/Reports.aspx). Aurora also is talking seriously about doing this (http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_12759315). I would love to see Arvada as a leader in this area.
Can you tell me if you favor following the Fort Collins model, the Greeley model, some other form of transparency, or none of the above? And if so, what you would do on City Council to promote it and effectively make it happen?
All four candidates responded. When out of courtesy, I subsequently asked each of them for permission to repost some or all of their answer on these pages, two of the candidates agreed and two demurred. Let’s start with the at-large candidates. Don Allard wrote:
I agree with you completely. I believe that the City adopted budget is online but I don’t know about the “proposed budget” I have placed a call to the City Managers office. I will pursue this matter and I feel confident that your suggestion will be accomodated. Thanks!–D.Allard
P.S.–Financial transactions also!
Allard’s opponent, incumbent Aaron Azari, requested that his answer not be included.
Now for the two candidates running to fill the open seat in Arvada’s 3rd District. First, Shelley Cook:
Thanks for writing. This is terrific idea! I like Ft. Collins’s program, with the possible exception of the publication of regular everyday (non-appointed or department head) employee salaries at a level of detail that makes it pretty easy to identify by individual.
I’m assuming this is a feature available with Fort Collins’s financial management system. If it is available on the system Arvada has, then getting it adopted is a matter mustering the support needed on City Council. If it is not part of the current system, then I would think we could provide at least some of this information through work between the Finance Department and the folks who maintain the city’s website.
I will tell you that one of my issues with the city financial reporting currently is that some information that used to be provided to the city council (where the buck stops) — for example, the line-item budget — no longer routinely is. So we have an additional step, and that is to open the books fully to the policy makers.
If I am elected, I will absolutely take this forward, advocate energetically for it, arrange field trips or guest speakers, if need be, to introduce folks to the thinking about and results of theses programs elsewhere. In the meantime, will you allow me to cite it? I am planning to write a ‘letter to the editor’ this week, kind of a reverse of the usual letters you see extolling the candidates, and talk instead about some of what I have gleaned from residents. This is a perfect example.
Cook’s opponent Bob Fifer responded as well, but asked that I not re-post his answer.
While I won’t agree with the candidates on each and every issue, my inquiries on the important issue of transparency have made it somewhat easier for me to make a decision about whom to vote for in the Arvada city council races.
For those candidates who emerge victorious, I plan to hold them to their statements. With today’s technology detailed online financial transparency is a modest investment that promotes taxpayer trust and more efficient, effective local government. Please make an informed vote in your local election — and don’t forget my endorsement for Jeffco school board: Laura Boggs.