In reply to Mayor McCarty’s public comment:

As I have reviewed the City Council minutes from the last five years, it is interesting that the idea of an improved website has, in fact, been bounced around for at least that long.  Funds were even approved to allow it to be created.  Still there is no site.

The statement made by Mayor McCarty about some of the financials being “ILLEGAL TO POST” (his caps not mine), is interesting.  It implies that he has some knowledge of the laws regarding public disclosure of information.  He should also be aware then, that this same statute REQUIRES (my caps this time) this information to be available to citizens, and provides methods to protect personal privacy.  Social Security Numbers and the like may be redacted.  That, however, is not a justification to not make it available.  (If you’re interested, please see 5 ILCS 140/2.10).

With that in mind, it is interesting that nearby communities have found it beneficial to their citizens to do exactly what was proposed at the meeting Mayor McCarty referred to, hosted by Matt Kennedy.  Burlington, among dozens of communities all over the country, use a service provided by OpenGov.com that makes it seamless (including providing access to the city’s check register).

Other comments made in his communication refer to a couple of specific items from this same meeting.  He made a comment that if someone had asked about the State Bank of Nauvoo item on the city’s published financial statement, they would have learned that it was for “withholding tax payments.”  It’s interesting because at the very same meeting, several representatives of the City were in attendance and stated that it was for the police vehicle. I believe it is in fact for tax payments.

Also referred to was the payment to Rhino Industries, for chemicals purchased for the City’s water department.  This company has one officer (although apparently does have an additional owner), who is the former President of the Bank.  He states that they provide these chemicals for 50% of the cost elsewhere.  That may be the case.  But since no requests for bids have ever been published (for ANYTHING in the last two years at least), and the process has not been visible (transparent) to the citizens of Nauvoo, who’s to say?  I don’t even think the Mayor can actually state that this is the best price, simply that it is less than it was previously.  Full disclosure of the bid and selection process would give everyone confidence that this is the case. Transparency.

Finally, we’re back to the costs of city personnel, in relation to the American Express item.  In the meeting where this was presented as an example of the kind of questions that open access can answer, there was no answer provided by the city government representatives in attendance (Mayor, City Clerk, Treasurer, Alderman (also a member of the Finance Committee)).  In fact, the Alderman in attendance stated “I’m on the Finance Committee, and I don’t know what these things are!”  As an indication, I suppose of how confusing it is.

I included this as the last item in my response due to a bigger concern that greater transparency can make issues more easily recognizable.  The published financials have city personnel payroll costs at just over $336,000.  If these other costs (Bank of Nauvoo, American Express, and others related to personnel compensation) are included the cost balloons to over $530,000.  This amounts to almost 34% of the city’s budget.  This means that every man, woman and child in Nauvoo paid over $500 last year, just to pay city employees.  A typical city the size of Nauvoo should expect to pay 6-8% of its budget to compensation.  15% is frequent, 34% is unheard of.

The citizens of Nauvoo are the employer.  If individuals receiving compensation from the citizens do not want their pay information made public, this is not the place for them.  If asking about contracts awarded by the city results in push-back and public outbursts, something is wrong.

When the citizens of Nauvoo are being asked to consider whether they know enough about how their city is being run, access to information (without having to run the gauntlet of city hall—you all know what I am referring to) is imperative.  But equally as important as being able to ask questions, is having complete access to clear, truthful information so that helpful suggestions can be made, and all of us can be involved in the process. I have had conversations in the last week with the company that provides the accounting software to the City.  They are currently working on a new version of the software that will provide online payments.  However, there is a provider, PSN Info Systems, that provides that ability now, today!  And Opengov.com would provide their full transparency solution for a nominal fee, much less than a recycle bin in fact.

Transparency should be a tool used by a city to build consensus, buy-in and trust, and to benefit from what each and every citizen brings to the table.

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