County’s goal is transparency with least expense to taxpayers

By Janet Rowland

On the issue of local governments being required to publish all expenditures in a local newspaper, The Daily Sentinel left out several very important pieces of information.

Last year our board asked state Rep. Ray Scott if he would carry a bill to amend the law that requires local governments to publish all expenditures in a local newspaper. Our intent was to be allowed to post our monthly expenditures on the Internet and then post an ad in our local newspapers telling citizens that they can access our expenditures on our website or call the county to request a copy be mailed to them.

We never intended to limit access to our monthly expenditures to just our county website, or just to people who have Internet access. This point was made multiple times in the meeting that The Daily Sentinel reporter attended, and yet it was omitted in the article and the editorial on this subject.

We could argue the accuracy of the Sentinel’s calculation of how many people actually read the newspaper, since a multiplier is used and multipliers are often inflated, but that misses the point.

It doesn’t matter if every man, woman and child in all of Mesa County reads The Daily Sentinel; there is simply no need to waste tax dollars printing pages upon pages of expenditures in the newspaper. Not in the digital age in which we live. There are many other ways to provide information to citizens. The digital options we have today actually allow us to be more transparent, not less.

The current law in question was written in 1911, and a lot has changed since then. Clearly the Sentinel is aware of those changes. Those at the Sentinel understand that many people now access information on the Internet and, in fact, they publish their paper online and recently began charging an online subscription fee. The Sentinel’s own business practice supports our position that the printed paper is not the only way to reach people.

Certainly we don’t expect that citizens will spontaneously go to our website at the first of each month to read our financials. That’s why our proposal included notifying citizens through several methods (including ads in several local newspapers) of how they can access that information. This method actually reaches more people, which is at the heart of transparency.

I don’t know who the “several county residents” are that the Sentinel claimed were questioning whether the county was trying to hide information from the public, but that claim is simply preposterous. We have made transparency a cornerstone of our time in office.

Within weeks of taking office in 2005, our board began broadcasting the commissioners’ hearings live on cable television and on the Internet via live web-streaming. All of our hearings are archived online and can be viewed by citizens at any time.

In addition to posting our agendas online, we now post all the backup documentation on every single item on our agenda. Every word of every contract. And we not only post our full budget online, we post all documents used during our budget process in real time, to allow any interested citizen to comment on our budget.

And, while the Sentinel conveniently left out the key facts mentioned above, it did manage to include a tongue-in-cheek comment that I made. Anyone who was in that meeting and awake knew that my comment was a joke.

We gave no instruction to staff to violate the law. We were having an open discussion to consider alternatives that would allow us to spend as few tax dollars as possible, while still meeting the intent of the law and, most importantly, ensuring the public had access to our financial information.

If The Daily Sentinel is truly concerned that citizens have access to the county’s financial information, it could post our expenditures as a community service. We won’t hold our breath.

Janet Rowland is chairwoman of the Mesa County Board of Commissioners.


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