Cincinnati Receives High Grade on Spending Transparency in Stark Contrast to Cleveland’s Low Score

Media Contacts
Tabitha Woodruff

New Report Compares Cincinnati and Cleveland to Other Major Cities Across America

Ohio PIRG Education Fund

Cincinnati received a grade of “B+” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by the Ohio PIRG Education Fund. The report reviews Cincinnati’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

“Cincinnati’s performance in our study makes clear that spending transparency can be achieved by cities of all sizes.  The city scored better than many other cities with significantly larger budgets and populations.” said Tabitha Woodruff, Advocate for Ohio PIRG Education Fund.

The report, “Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities,” reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.

Cincinnati’s grade of “B+” reflects features such as the city’s provision of downloadable checkbook-level spending information, which allows citizens to view where money is being spent. The website lists specific recipients of tax subsidies. The city also has a service request center that allows residents to notify city officials of quality-of-life issues that need to be fixed.   However, there is significant room for improvement; Cincinnati should make its checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who receives the money, and should develop a one-stop transparency website to centralize city spending information.

“We’re proud to be receiving this recognition for open government. The high marks Cincinnati received says a lot about our commitment to being accountable for the dollars we get from the public,” City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said. “We’re pleased that our website redesign makes it even easier for our citizens to get the information they want when they want it.”

The report found that 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Three cities received “A” grades and lead the pack in delivering easy-to-access, encompassing information on government spending: New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Five cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online: Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland.

The grade of “F” nonetheless recognizes that Cleveland provides basic budget documents online. The city lacks checkbook-level city spending information and there is plenty of other room for improvement.  For example, Cleveland should provide checkbook-level spending data that is searchable by city department, keyword, and vendor and is downloadable for data analysis.  The city should also post historical expenditure data from previous fiscal years and provide tax subsidy information that lists the benefits specific companies receive from the city’s tax credits, exemptions and abatements.  The city should develop a one-stop transparency website to centralize city spending information and make it easier for citizens to access such information.

“The ability to see how government spends its funds is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility,” said Woodruff. “Cleveland scored very low in our study because it provides very little additional information beyond what is provided in the city’s standard budget documents. The city lacks checkbook-level city spending information.  Cleveland should prioritize transparency efforts in order to catch up with the advancing standards of Transparency 2.0.”

The report makes a series of recommendations for cities to follow in order to achieve spending transparency, including:

·         Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.

·         Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.

·         Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.

·         Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.

·         Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.

·         Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.

“City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health.  Spending transparency can help Ohioans in Cincinnati and Cleveland hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Woodruff.

The new study extends Ohio PIRG’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Ohio’s spending transparency to the other 49 states in its report “Following the Money.”

The “Transparency in City Spending” report can be downloaded here.