TROY — Troy City Council met as a committee as a whole to discuss joining the Ohio Treasurer’s Office’s Ohio Checkbook program on Wednesday.
Council members Robin Oda, Bill Lutz, Tom Kendall, John Schweser, Bobby Phillips, Bill Twiss and Brock Heath gave their positive support of joining the program. Todd Severt was the lone vote against the program. Council member John Terwilliger was not present.
State Treasurer’s Office Ohio Checkbook representative Lauren Bowen gave council members a look at what the city of Troy’s unique website would look like and how the city’s expenditure information would be available to the public. Bowen said 1,123 public entities have joined the program since it has launched in 2014 under former treasurer Josh Mandel. The office is currently under state Treasurer Robert Sprague’s direction.
Following more than an hour of discussion, Kendall made the positive motion to recommend the program move forward. Severt shared he voted against the program because the city’s information is already open to the public through the Freedom of Information Act, the site could be confusing, devote more staff time to requests and issues with vendors and their business with the city.
Robin Oda said she’s been a proponent for the Ohio Checkbook program since 2014. She urged council members to try other government Checkbook sites to see how user-friendly the sites are.
“I think the people of Troy would appreciate it. It’s not hard to use. Some people are going to have more difficulty than others,” she said.
City Auditor John Frigge said the city has won auditing awards for 30 years and the office has responded to all public requests for information.
“This will allow some way on their own to navigate. Some people will. It may raise some questions in their mind and we may have a public request we have to do. If that’s the case, we’ll take care of it, we take care of it in a timely manner. We won awards for 30 years for transparency and being good stewards of taxpayers’ money and answer all public requests. My department doesn’t care whether we are on this public checkbook program or not. We will not function any differently. We have never hidden anything from the public and never will hide anything from the public,” Frigge said. “It’s entirely up to you council membera whether we do this or not.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Michael Beamish reiterated the city’s award winning audits and being good stewards of taxpayers’ money. Beamish shared his concern with the program about the negative impact from the public and then on city staff to respond to inquiries.
“My concern is that we live in a negative society where we nickle and dime things and it becomes issues. That’s my worry, with this (program) to allow that to happen and if so will that in turn cause us, as a lot of people have asked today, more staff time to respond on those nickle and dime issues,” Beamish said.
President Marty Baker noted the program is not “locked-in forever” and if it creates too much staff time, council could decide to pull out of the program.
“We are not under any kind of contract,” Baker said.
Severt asked how many public information requests the city receives, which was approximately 10-12 a year.
Kendall said he understands the program is focused on transparency, but said, “what I’m hearing from our auditor is that we are really transparent already.”
Frigge said the program would be an additional step in the office’s transparency. Kendall then asked how the program was any better than what the city currently does in that regard.
Bowen said,”That’s a fair question. We are modernizing and updating a process.” Bowen gave an example of pulling information through a simple search with the database of how much money was spent at Staples on Feb. 14, 2015 without going to the office and making the request in person.
“It’s convenience. It’s mainly mitigating the jumping of certain hoops or maybe it’s easier to read the bigger print online. I think when we are in the business of public service and people are trusting us with their hard earned money. They want options on how they can access this information about government and this is just a way to honor that,” Bowen said.
Bowen said Miami County entities currently enrolled in the free program are the village of Fletcher, Pleasant Hill and Casstown, Tipp City Schools, Bethel Township and the Bradford Library. She said Miami County and the village of Bradford have expressed interest in joining the program with the county expected to go live with their site in the near future. There are no contracts and the city could opt out at any time.
Bowen explained the program is free and completely optional. She said entities could upload their financial information as little or as often as they would like with monthly, quarterly or yearly updates. She gave the example of Bethel Local Schools who update their information monthly, which takes one minute to post to their Checkbook website.
Bowen said it took 20 minutes to upload three years of the city’s expenditure information from the city auditor’s data. Council member Bill Twiss asked about the security of the information. Bowen said it’s not linked to any personal data and the site draws its information from the city’s accounting system. Twiss also asked if any government groups have signed up and then quit after enrolling in the program.
“This is a partnership. You participate to the extent that you want to participate,” Bowen said, noting it is not mandated for any government entity to participate.
Bowen said no personal information such as Social Security numbers or business vendor or credit card information would be revealed in the Ohio Checkbook program. The program would be online with its own website name and could be linked to the city’s website if the city chooses to add it. Bowen said the largest entities who participate are Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cuyahoga County and its school district information.