|(Mineola, NY) – With the latest public corruption scandals dominating headlines, and State government’s repeated failure to implement serious ethics reform, today, Reclaim New York was joined by transparency leaders, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, to launch new tools to empower New Yorkers to hold government accountable. Reclaim’s statewide database of local government spending is the first of its kind in New York, and the group’s new transparency standards give both public officials and taxpayers guidelines for making government more open, and accessible.
The new tools are part of Reclaim’s unprecedented New York Transparency Project that is using the Freedom of Information Law to obtain spending information from New York’s 3,400-plus government entities. The group has also filed successful litigation against major municipalities on Long Island forcing them to release their expenditure records, and pay attorney fees.
“This database will allow every taxpayer to see how their money is being spent and judge whether those funds are being spent both legally and effectively,” said Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir. “The only way to clean up corruption, and stop the waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars, is to use both the law and technology to create a new layer of citizen oversight at every level of government.”
The New York Transparency Project’s new online, searchable database allows anyone, for the first time, to see how their local governments are spending their taxpayer dollars. Starting with Long Island data, it will include county, city, town, school district, and village expenditure records for FY2014, and soon FY2015. The database will be expanded to include public authorities and continually be updated, with records from every region in New York state with the latest available checkbook each year.
The database is patterned off of the groundbreaking effort of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel who created OhioCheckbook.com in the Buckeye State, which set a new national standard for transparency that empowers taxpayers to see how every penny is spent. As a result, Ohio went from forty-sixth to first in the country for state government fiscal transparency.
Recognized as a transparency leader nationally, Mandel, who was in attendance at the launch said, “I believe taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Thanks to the incredible efforts of Reclaim New York, taxpayers in the Empire State are now empowered to hold public officials accountable like never before. In Ohio, we’ve set a new national standard for government transparency with the launch of OhioCheckbook.com and I’m proud to see the transparency movement gaining momentum across the country.”
Reclaim New York also announced new Transparency Standards for every layer of local government that provide a roadmap for them to improve access to public information. The guidelines include providing accurate contact information for staff who handle records requests, making contract bidding rules available, posting meeting minutes, and voluntarily posting expenditure information on a regular basis.
County Comptroller George Maragos has led Nassau’s efforts to provide citizens more access to government records with online posting of all contracts and claims. Nassau County was the only one of 253 government entities to proactively provide the public with access to spending data. He joined Reclaim for their announcement today, saying, “Total Transparency is crucial to restoring trust in government. Anything less is a public disservice.”
Brandon Muir added, “We commend Comptroller Maragos for taking steps far beyond other government officials on Long Island by offering more complete spending transparency. If others followed the standard he has set, and our roadmap, people would be better able to see how their money is being spent without resorting to lawsuits, and months of asking for public information that should be readily available.”
The organization will complete assessments of all Long Island governments using the new Transparency Standards, and issue a scorecard so that citizens know if their local government is making a serious effort to become more open.
To use the Transparency Database, visit reclaimnewyork.org/find-a-checkbook. More information on the New York Transparency Project is available at reclaimnewyork.org/transparency.