With a population of 14,500 and a location south of Yuma, until recently I had never even heard of Somerton, Arizona. Yet, this tiny town serves as one of the best examples of what financial transparency by the government ought to look like.
In 2010, the Arizona legislature passed a law sponsored by Representative Steve Montenegro that required all local governments in Arizona to begin posting financial transactions online by January 1, 2013. Shockingly, nearly every one missed the deadline.
Somerton posts all of its individual transactions, with a few redactions for privacy, using an Excel spreadsheet web application. Citizens can drill into general fund spending, spending that occurs out of Highway User Revenue Fund monies, special districts, and other sources of funds. Even individual charges on a credit card are posted.
Doug Bradley, the town’s finance/admin services director, came from the private-sector and realized that managers needed this detailed information and that citizens deserved it. Unaware of the law, he implemented the system entirely on his own accord.
Although the “why” of many of Somerton’s transactions is not clear, this is a relatively minor flaw compared to the outright non-compliance of most local governments in the state, including our biggest cities. Citizen activists should start asking questions of their local governments about when they expect to get their required information online. And, any government that needs a starting point should look to Somerton to learn a lesson or two as they begin to comply with the law.
Goldwater Institute: Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government
City of Somerton: Somerton at a Glance
Arizona State Legislature: HB 2282 (2010)