Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’

A Big Win for Transparency

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

It pains, PAINS me to write this–but kudos to Madame Speaker Pelosi for putting the itemized expenditures of every member of Congress online. The document, know as Statement of Disbursements of the House, has been published by law since 1964. This is the first year, however, that it has been posted online.

Virginia Watchdog posted this first and notes some curious expenditures. I have not gone through the items line by line and probably will not. It’s hard to tell who’s the worst/best spenders in Congress, given that Congressmen are all over the country with different needs in regard to how often they go home or communicate with constituents, but it’s still comforting to see this information out there for public consumption.

Now if only these practices would trickle down to the local level…..

Balancing the Ol’ Checkbook

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I neglected to link to this last week, but Tertium Quids praised Goochland County for putting its checkbook online. From the RTD editorial they linked to:

That represents a quantum leap in clarity over the financial reporting of some local governments, whose budget documents are sometimes long on verbiage and short on specifics. Knowing that a utility department’s personnel costs are X hundred thousand and its operating expenses are Y million doesn’t say anything about whether the money is spent wisely and well.

Nick Howard at TQ suggests the next step is the launching of a citizen’s audit committee to examine the newly open expenses. This all sparked my attention in light of this move by our own county government here in Shenandoah:

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors might turn to professionals to help find a new county administrator.

Current County Administrator Vince Poling announced last month that he plans to retire in 2010. On Monday, he said his target retirement date is June 30.

The supervisors have established a salary range of $85,000-$100,000 for the new administrator, said Poling, whose salary is $111,000 a year.

He said four executive search firms have been interviewed, and District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley, the chairman of the personnel committee, is negotiating with one of the firms.

Though Supervisor Helsley makes some intriguing points as to why a search firm may be needed, its still a question for debate, particularly when one would hope that Supervisors should know what they need in an administrator.

At any rate, this, along with nauseating budget documents whose line items offer very little insight into just how money is spent and anectodotal stories from local merchants about misguided expenses, adds further fuel to the fire for transparency here in our own backyard.

Howell Does Good

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Long time readers will know that Speaker Bill Howell, who was recently re-elected to his position as Speaker of the House (or is at least the Republican pick, though the current majority more or less secures his choice by the Caucus), is not exactly one of my favorites. I’m not going to back away from my position on the smoking ban coming into effect at the beginning of next month, though I will admit that it didn’t really hurt the ticket’s pro-business platform (though McDonnell himself opposed it, and frankly I can’t think of a single race where this was a deal breaker).

However, I do give kudos where kudos is due. Howell played very smart politics over the last few years by keeping costs down in the House and by allowing recorded subcommittee votes. That particular plank managed to appease both the media and liberal types along with conservatives for whom transparency has become a hot new issue. Howell doubled down on this strategy today by not walking away from proportional representation. From the Washington Post VA Politics blog:

House Speaker Bill Howell plans to honor current rules of proportional representation as he reorganizes House committees in the wake of the Nov. 3 election results. That means Howell will add one Republican to each committee, in line with the GOP caucus’ growth from 55 to 61 members. He will not be adding two Republicans, as has been widely rumored, according to Howell chief of staff Paul Nardo

Kudos to the speaker. Frankly, not much was to be gained here. Barring a defection from the Democratic caucus to the McDonnell administration (and possibly two, if Republicans don’t hold the 37th Senate district seat vacated by AG-elect Ken Cuccinelli), we aren’t going to control the Senate any time soon. While tempting, adding two GOPers wouldn’t do much and only aid any narrative of Republican overreach. Governor-elect McDonnell is in a good position to get many of his iniatives through already. No reason to queer the deal by angering and giving the Democrats good reason to fight tooth and nail and to give the media the possibility of comparison’s to Obama’s overreach in his first year.

So kudos to Speaker Howell and the Republican Caucus. But remember: we’re still watching.

Letting Freedom Ring

I’ve written quite a bit over the last few weeks about the recent Tea Party protests and their long term potential. I’m of the belief that in order to be most effective conservatives need to start at the very bottom levels of government organizing, then get their people elected, the same people who will carry the conservative mantle to higher levels of government. Well, it looks like we’re starting to see that, starting with, of all places, Rhode Island! From Granite Grok (H/T The Corner and Michelle Malkin):

Mere days after the largest nationwide anti-tax rallies the likes of which haven’t been seen since prior to the start of the American Revolution, the City Council of Woonsocket, RI (Yes, THAT RI, with a sales, income, AND property tax, basically the highest in the country…) stood poised to stick the taxpayers with a “supplemental” tax bill to fund a budget shortfall in it’s school department. Essentially, the property taxpayers– with commercial owners paying 2-1/2 times the rate– would be sent a so-called “5th Quarter” tax bill. Normally, taxes are billed and paid in quarterly payments in the year.


The local paper, The Woonsocket Call described the events:

Harris Hall was so packed that admittance was closed after about 130 spectators filled the room. People were standing against the back walls because there weren’t any more seats left and there was a line of speakers behind the lectern waiting to address the council that snaked out into the foyer. More than two hours after the session began, people were still waiting for their turn to speak, and the council hadn’t even recited the Pledge of Allegiance to mark the formal start of the agenda.


The expected 6 to 1 vote favoring a supplemental tax bill to be foisted up Woonsocket taxpayers turned into a stunning 4 to 3 midnight vote, DEFEATING it!

An incredible display of citizen activism and organization. Want to start the momentum here? Get involved and attend Shenandoah County’s budget hearing next Thursday, April 30 (time pending). Although currently real estate taxes are not slated to be increased. there is talking of an increase on the vehicle tax (which Superivsors claim due to declining asessments will be “revenue neutral,” words always to be suspicious of when it comes to taxes assesed by value), it is important to ask questions about where the money is going and where it’s coming from. To borrow two old cliches: Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and knowledge is power.

Lawyers, Judges and Money

The Daily Press takes a look at an interesting move by Delegate Harvey Morgan is the quest for a new judge for Gloucester County:

Del. Harvey Morgan introduced something unusual into the process of appointing a new judge for Gloucester General District Court. 


It came in the form of an advisory citizen committee he appointed, which recently held a hearing. The public was invited to hear the four men who want the job make their case for why they should be appointed.

That’s unusual because judicial appointments in Virginia are usually handled in the back rooms of the state Capitol, with little input from the public and next to no meaningful opportunity to watch the process. 

The editorial points out that judges in Virginia don’t reach the bench via the same method used on the federal level (appointment by the President with confirmation by the Senate) or as they do in other states (via direct election). Rather the process starts and ends entirely within the legislature, as regions break up into caucuses to determine nominees and those nominees are then usually given a thumbs up by both houses. However, this can become a tricky proposition when power is split between the two parties as it is now, with the Senate controlled by the Dems and the House ruled by the GOP. 

Ostensibly there is already some public input into the process, as bar associations can and do offer their recommendations. However, they don’t have to be taken. The appointment of judges is a tricky proposition as, honestly, the public doesn’t know alot about what makes a good judge. However, they certainly suffer the consequences when bad judges make it through. The article mentions a program that was instituted by then AG Bob McDonnell to garner feedback for new judges and then offer it to them when the time comes for re-appointment. However, the program has since been defunded. 

So, thoughts? I think as it stands a wholesale change is not in order (as the process allows for the public’s input via the form of legislative elections, although House races rarely hinge on judicial appointments and still insulates judges from direct influence of donors, as would not be the case with legislative elections), but I think certainly some sunlight into the process wouldn’t hurt, even if it was in the form of voluntary efforts such as Delegate Morgan’s.

Transparency Gaining Steam

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Frequent readers of my blog know that budget transparency at all levels of government is a pet issue of mine. The issue has also been gaining steam in conservative circles at all levels of government. Norm over at TQ notes that Senator Cuccinelli’s bill to put the state budget online has passed the first hoop in the House. However, nervous bueracrats are doing everything they can to stop the bill:

It now heads over the the House Appropriations committee because, for whatever reason, the Department of Planning and Budget insists that there is a fiscal impact.

This comes as news both to the folks from General Services and to the state’s Auditor, Walter Kucharski, who told the committee that there is no fiscal impact from the bill and that the Department of Planning and Budget never asked him if for his input on their estimate.

I’ll never cease to be amazed by the sense of entitlement that public officials and bureaucrats have once they have “the people’s” money. Regardless, the always know what’s best for the greater good. 

Meanwhile, Crystal Clear Conservative notes that the issue is gaining alot of traction in Fairfax, particularly after Pat Herrity’s extremely tight campaign for Chairman where he used transparency as a key issue:

Transparency is a hot ticket issue, especially in large, suburban counties like Fairfax, where it seems like every year comes with a new property tax increase. This is the first step towards fiscal accountability. If a taxpayer searches the database and notices that the company is spending $X with this contractor, then they are able to question this at an open county hearing with their Supervisor. In this budget crisis, we need fiscally sound principles more now than ever.

Amen sister. If elected officials are truly doing the people’s work and are basing their decisions on principles, not relationships, then they should have nothing to hide. After numerous controversies about the style of governance in Shenandoah County over the last few years, will any Board of Supervisors candidates take up the call for budget transparency.

If you’re out there, I’d like to hear from you.

This Is Your Congress In Action

February 13, 2009 Leave a comment

The House has passed a slightly reduced “stimulus” bill, with again Republicans standing in united opposition to the monstrosity. Representative Tom Price of Georgia shows us how things get down in Nancy Pelosi’s congress, with bills being given to Representatives just hours before the vote and handwritten changes throughout the bill. 

Kralik: Cloud Computing future for Gov. IT

February 4, 2009 Leave a comment

David Kralik, director Internet Strategy for Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions, is making the rather bold suggestion that government technologists should start looking at cloud computing for new solutions for government tech. For those not familiar with the concept, Kralik offers up one of the best definitions I’ve seen:

Cloud computing has three basic characteristics: capabilities are accessed over the Internet, housed in an off-site data center, and paid for on a subscription basis. This new model delivers computing applications as a utility, similar to electricity or telephone service. Many applications including e-mail, office document productivity, data storage, and customer databases are moving in this direction because of the opportunity to eliminate the need to buy, maintain, or upgrade information technology systems. But sadly, outdated bureaucratic rules and regulations prevent the federal government from fully being able to embrace and reap the benefits of this technology.

To put it even more simply, think of email. If Microsoft Outlook is the old way, Gmail is the cloud computing way. Microsoft Word=Old; Google Docs=Cloud. Essentially, any sort of application that used to require its own software but can now be accessed via the web. 

Kralik points out, as usual, government IT types are grandstanding by citing security and privacy privilege. However, Kralich points out that the old way is perhaps even more troublesome when it comes to privacy, citing last year’s case when 26 million veterans found their personal data compromised when a laptop was stolen. 

In summary:

The move from mainframe computing to microprocessor was a major transformational change in information technology, as was the transition from punch cards to software and the invention of the Internet. A fourth major transformational shift is occurring right now as software is replaced with “software as a service,” which can significantly improve government operations, lower cost, and move government into the 21st century. As we begin a new session of Congress and new presidential administration, it’s time to give this technology serious consideration.

As the single largest purchaser of information technology, government could benefit from this if only it would get its head out of the sand and into the clouds.

Now just imagine what could be done if county government switched to cloud computing?

Tons of Twitterers!

February 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Twittering seems to be sweeping through both the world of political consultants and elected officials these days and is getting plenty of media attention. For those of you not familiar with Twitter, it is essentially a web service that allows you keep your friends and family up to date by providing a 140 character answer to the question: what are you doing? These answers are then uploaded to the central server and can be received on the web, via third party software (I prefer twhirl), and via cell phone. You can also update Twitter via those same methods. 

As I mentioned, although Twitter is often used to keep families in touch, politicians are using it to keep constituents and fans constantly up to date. Not all elected officials do their own twittering, but many are twittering live from meetings, even some behind closed doors: two Republican members of Congress sent over twenty “tweets” (as messages on twitter are known) from last week’s meeting with President Obama. However, not everyone is enthused about the innovation.

Read more…

No Anonymous Contributions–Well, most of the time

February 2, 2009 1 comment

From the WaPo, word that the General Assembly has passed a bill that would ban state candidates and committees from accepting donations that are made via cash cards purchased from convenience stores and other retailers:


Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) said he introduced the bill after learning that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) allowed donors to use the cards during the presidential campaign last year.

“It’s not a looophole,” Marshall said. “It’s a grand cavern of exceptions for anonymous donations.”

Twelve Democrats voted against the bill. Republicans are now expected to use the cards as an issue in this November’s House elections, trying to paint a picture that Democrats are corrupt and do not mind illegal donations.

Obama’s campaign had to explain why campaign finance reports included itemized donations from individuals using fake names, such as Es Esh or Doodad Pro, according to a Washington Post story. Those revelations prompted conservative bloggers to try to contribute to Obama by using prepaid cards that can be bought at a drugstore and cannot be traced to a donor.


The bill was largely expected to pass, and I think its a good idea. Since Virginia doesn’t have any limits on contributions but instead relies on a system of quick and complete disclosure, the bill does not have much impact on the current system. Still, it is a good precedent to set for Congress to follow, and is another layer of protection against those who might attempt to cheat the system by creating false personas in order to hide the exact source of their donations. Although certainly anyone can provide a false persona to a committee, this gives them one less way to do so.

Read more…