City launches financial transparency program

The Web tool allows citizens to monitor the city’s financial information.

Nick Wicker

Minneapolis government is now more transparent, thanks to a new online tool.

The city’s Financial Transparency Platform, which launched earlier this month, allows visitors of the official Minneapolis website to easily sort through the government’s budget, broken down by department.

The database exhibits the city’s involvement in a wider national trend of transparency initiatives.

Ward 11 City Councilman John Quincy said the website was created to make city financial information more accessible.

Those who wanted to view the city’s finances before had to piece together information from the city’s website, then call city officials and usually file a Minnesota Data Practices Act request, he said.

“We wanted to be as open as we could be, but it was difficult to be open without a change in policy and a new tool that responds more efficiently to people’s individual requests,” Quincy said.

He said the program is already generating traffic and has received positive feedback from users, who  often include journalists and researchers.

Minneapolis Deputy Finance Officer Sandra Christensen said production of the website started in the fall of 2013, and the city paid development company OpenGov $25,000 to create the Web tool.

OpenGov provides transparency Web tools to more than 200 governments in 30 states.

Quincy said he expects a spike in visitors to the site once Mayor Betsy Hodges releases her 2016 budget proposal in August.

Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said this new online portal is reflective of a larger trend across government bodies nationwide to be more transparent.

“There’s a transformation happening in government at this time,” said Kelly Clausen, a spokesperson for Hennepin County.

Clausen said the county is also making more data available to the public and currently breaks down program spending online.

The state also created an interactive budget transparency tool, called TransparencyMN, in January.

Kiedrowski said the advantage of these Web tools is that people can explore the city’s finances on their own, without receiving information translated by government employees.

“It’s always better in a democracy to have more information rather than less information,” Kiedrowski said. “It allows individuals to try to understand what their government is doing.”

Christensen said that while the website’s construction is complete, the city plans to add more data as it becomes available.