FOI Daily Dose: Site that opens Denver checkbook should continue adding information, watchdogs say
Citizens and reporters in Denver, Colo., will no longer have to file public records requests to learn some of the ways the city spends tax dollars.
Denver city and county launched a website July 17 revealing the city’s financial reports, investments, residential- and business-property records and city-owned properties for sale, according to the Denver Post.
The site, called Transparent Denver, features a checkbook that will be automatically updated daily so citizens can see how the city is spending its $900 million annual budget.
“This site opens the book of city government,” Kennedy told the Post. “The goal, as the mayor indicated, is to really improve the level of trust so people can see how their tax dollars are being spent.”
Cary Kennedy, Denver’s chief financial officer, told the Post that five years of city spending data are already available, and the website has a link to the city’s annual financial report.
But some news organizations and watchdog groups say there is still critical information missing from the site.
For instance, FOX31 Denver points out that even though the website lists dollar values of expense reimbursements for officials when they travel, it does not provide specific details about what they are reimbursed for, such as airline tickets, cabs or dinners.
“I think a lot of people will say, OK you got reimbursed $1,861 for this trip, but we don’t know if you went to the Four Seasons for dinner. We don’t know if you had wine on the taxpayers dime. So how can we improve the system? So, it’s more transparent?,” investigative reporter Tak Landrock told FOX31 Denver.
FOX31 also pointed out that the website shows the city spent $1.6 million dollars using credit cards, but it does not show what they purchased with the cards.
Kennedy told FOX31 Denver that posting credit card statements could “boggle down the webpage,” but taxpayers who have questions can email the city for more information.
Employee payroll is also missing from the site, but Wil Alston, director of communications for the finance department, told the Post that taxpayers can access this information through Colorado open records requests.
Kennedy said the website will continue developing to make numbers more accessible.
Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch, a non-profit government accountability group, told FOX31 the website is a good start, but leaders should continue make information more available.
“I think you can always get more web capacity. The computers are getting more powerful and people’s internet speeds are getting better,” Toro said. “Technology is very good in this area to solve those problems.”
Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.