By Richard Eckstrom
Across the state, there’s a growing movement that will result in greater government efficiency and accountability.
Several local governments have begun putting their monthly check registers on the Internet. By doing so, they are empowering taxpayers with click-of-a-mouse access to details about how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent… and helping create a new era of transparency in South Carolina.
I’ve long believed transparency improves the quality of government. When public spending is done in the open, public officials are usually more accountable. They tend to make better decisions, knowing those decisions will face public scrutiny.
That’s why, several months ago, my office began a campaign to encourage local governments to voluntarily post their spending details on the Internet. We had recently unveiled a spending transparency Web site for state agencies, and local government spending transparency seemed like a logical next step. To make it as easy and inexpensive as possible, my office has offered to host the information on our own Web site if necessary.
Two-thousand-nine will go down as a watershed year for transparency in South Carolina. The towns of Irmo and Turbeville, the cities of Aiken and Cayce, and Charleston, Dorchester and Anderson counties have begun posting their monthly check registers online. The city of Columbia and the town of South Congaree have recently announced their intentions to do so. I also recently heard that Myrtle Beach was considering it, and a York County Council member told me he is exploring the idea.
And while my office’s efforts have focused on encouraging local units of government to voluntarily put their spending on the Internet, there has also been legislative debate over whether to compel them to do so. School districts soon will begin putting their spending details online, and a measure under consideration would require colleges and universities to do so. Thanks to the hard work of the S.C. Policy Council, Sen. Mike Rose and others, government at all levels is becoming much more transparent in South Carolina.
In putting such information at people’s fingertips, these local officials are sending an important message: It’s not their money they’re spending. It’s the people’s money, and people deserve easy access to how it’s spent. These local officials are also helping to gain the confidence of those they serve, which is important at a time when too many people distrust government or hold it in low esteem.
In meeting with local governments from across the state, I’ve been encouraged by the responses I’ve received. Many understand it’s their responsibility to provide such information, and to make it as easy as possible to access. Still, it’s clear to me that many local governments simply will not voluntarily do so, at least not without pressure from their citizens.
That’s why it’s important that citizens make their voices heard. Contact your local elected officials. Let them know you believe transparency is the best policy. Good government is made even better when it’s conducted in full view of the public.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
By Richard Eckstrom