Sen. Deidre Henderson named transparency board chair in absentia

10 07 2013

Wednesday was supposed to be Sen. Deidre Henderson’s first meeting with the Utah Transparency Advisory Board.

But Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican who is taking the place of Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, wasn’t there. Instead, she was attending a meeting of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in Philadelphia.

But her new board colleagues came up with a suitable punishment: They unanimously elected her as the board’s new chair, a post also previously held by Niederhauser.

“Pick on the person who isn’t there,” Henderson tweeted after learning about her appointment.

Henderson sponsored SB283 during this year’s legislative session which expanded the board’s duties to provide access to more than just financial information through the state’s transparency website. Her bill also expands the board’s membership, including adding two public seats to the board.

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Not all entities are posting on Utah’s Transparency website

3 05 2013

Since 2009, Utahns have been able to log on to a state website and see how much public employees are paid, as well as what agencies and governments were spending.

The goal behind the Transparent Utah website was to make government more, well, transparent. And in some ways it helps. Entities with budgets in excess of $1 million are required to post their books on the site.

But, as was discussed during Tuesday’s Transparency Advisory Board meeting, and heavy users of the site know, not everyone is doing that.

For example, out of 272 counties, municipalities and service districts that were supposed to start reporting their payroll in 2011, 11 have failed to do so. Out of 146 charter schools, colleges and universities, school districts and transit districts, eight have not provided payroll data.

Overall, nearly a third of the entities required to report did not submit 2012 salary data.

Darrell Swensen, the state’s transparency coordinator, said he didn’t think it was malice driving the lack of response. He said it was a matter of priorities for some entities. In other cases, the job passed from one person to another, the responsibility for posting the data eventually forgotten.

But the law does not provide any penalties for agencies that don’t get their payroll records online within the first quarter of a new fiscal year. Right now, the only enforcement mechanism is Swensen encouraging them to post, and providing a template to help them do it.

To really punish the delinquent entities would require revising the law, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, who drafted the law and chairs the transparency advisory board, said that is not likely to happen.

“I would rather take the passive approach,” Niederhauser said.

John Reidhead, the board’s vice chairman, suggested one way to bring the delinquents to heel is to have a statement put in their annual audit reports that they were not posting the information.

Another option, floated by Robert Woolley, with the state’s Department of Technology Service, was to create a “wall of shame” on the state site, highlighting which agencies are not turning in their data. He envisioned a box on the site’s homepage, showing the logo and the name of the offending entities.

The only drawback to that is that only site users will see who’s listed as delinquent, and the transparency site is not exactly a hub of Internet activity. This idea is sort of akin to pillorying someone in a private courtyard.

But to help shine the spotlight on the problem, here is a list of some of the entities that should be posting on the transparency site, but are falling behind, and fiscal year last posted online.

Box Elder County (2011)

Coalville (no data)

Duchesne (2011)

Fairview (2011)

Green River (2011)

Helper (2011)

Holladay (2011)

Kamas (2011)

Kanab (2011)

La Verkin (2011)

Lindon (2011)

Monticello Academy (no data uploaded)

Payson (2011)

Panguitch (2011)

Provo School District (2010)

South Ogden (2011)





Utah gets B+ for transparency, but can still do better

26 04 2013

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund ranked Utah ninth in the nation for transparency on financial matters.

The group gave Utah a grade of B+ for its transparency website. It noted that Utah’s site provides “checkbook” level information on what government entities are spending, and cited how the data encouraged the state to cut back on buying bottled water to save money.

The state did receive some low marks for not having searchable and downloadable formats for economic-development tax credits, or information to hold the companies receiving the tax breaks accountable.

 





Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signs bills promoting government transparency

26 03 2013

Gov. Gary Herbert signed two of Sen. Deidre Henderson’s bills that aim to make more public information accessible.

SB77 requires public bodies to post draft meeting minutes on the state’s Public Meeting Notice website within 30 days of a meeting, and an audio recording of a meeting within three days of the meeting. Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, tried to amend the bill to exempt smaller communities, whom he claimed would view the posting requirement as a hardship, but that change was rejected.

SB283 moves the Utah Transparency Advisory Board from the Department of Finance to the Department of Administrative Services, and directs it to look at ways to make more public records accessible through the Internet. The board already has made financial information, such as salaries, available through the state’s Transparency website.

The Utah Media Coalition, which includes  The Salt Lake Tribune, gave the bill a “pale light” rating due to the requirement that its recommendations be approved by the Legislature. That provision, the coalition noted, could have a chilling effect on the recommendations.