Governmental Transparency

Transparency seems to be The Word these days, particularly in this current Amarillo city council election. Transparency itself, though, is meaningless without accessibility. If you can't understand what you're getting, it's a pointless endeavor. 

I've talked during the campaign about using technology to make the city's budgets easy-to-understand, accessible, and trustworthy. Before I get to that, let's take a look at what the city currently describes as transparent. 

From the city's website, you have your choice of looking at the Popular Annual Financial Report, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, and the full Budget. Each one of these links will take you to a PDF document that you'll have to download. But here's the rub: the Comprehensive Annual Report is almost 40 MB large. The Popular Report is 42.9 MB. The full budget is a whopping 73 MB!

For those of you who don't care about megabyte file sizes, let's just say that's a load of information to download and sift through, especially if you're only interested in how much we spend on parks, or you're just curious about how many animals the city euthanizes every month . You get the whole enchilada when all you're really asking for is a chip with a little salsa.

The budget is extremely detailed, and it's worthwhile for any Amarillo citizen to grab it and try to read it. You'll see pages like this:

  (I've made this intentionally small to squeeze it here, but you get my point. You can read the full and legible version in the city budget.)

 

(I've made this intentionally small to squeeze it here, but you get my point. You can read the full and legible version in the city budget.)

Yes, right. It's transparency at its finest.

I want to change this. Instead of Texas-sized PDF documents, which are unwieldy to use even on the newest, big foot-sized iPhone, I want to make data something you can use. I want Amarillo to be a flagship city in the country to truly embrace transparent budgets. Take a look at this:

This is from Cook County, and it's based on the Open City apps project. For those of you technically curious, here is the GitHub repository. Open City apps is an open source software project. This means the code is free.

If I can show the city's data in a format that you can use and you can explore, it'll answer so many of the questions people have had so far during this campaign: how much did we pay Coca-Cola? How much did the city spend on the Commerce Building? (And I mean total cost and not just the building purchase.) How much has the city already spend on infrastructure for the stadium-hotel-parking garage plan? 

No more ambiguity. No more misinformation. I want transparent, understandable, concise data. 

When the people know the facts, power returns to the people.