Government Transparency
5:31 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

Chelsa Wagner Calls for More Transparency with Authorities

County Controller Chelsa Wagner has issued a letter to Allegheny County authorities asking them to increase their transparency.

Brad Korinski, county controller chief of staff, said the public needs and wants more transparency and supervision over authorities and how they spend taxpayer money.

“Authorities affect any number of aspects of our daily life as citizens,” Korinski said. “But I think that even the most engaged of our citizens would be hard-pressed to describe exactly how authorities do what it is that they do.”

According to Wagner’s letter, the authorities were not in compliance with the transparency provision of Section 9, which mandates them to include specific administrative and financial documents on their websites.

The authorities must include a description of all service programming and goals for the current fiscal year, a complete list of the authority’s operating budget and capital budget line items and copies of all financial statements for the previous three fiscal years.

Korinski said authorities should go beyond the minimum requirements, suggesting that they conduct meetings at accessible public spaces and schedule them at a time when the public can participate and stream videos of the meetings and store them on website so the public can watch.

“Particularly when technology is enabling us to have transparency in government as never before, there really is no reason why a taxpayers shouldn’t be able to go to a website and watch an authority meeting or access public documents,” Korinski said.

All of the authorities posted their service programs and goals, but only two, the Port Authority and Airport Authority, out of the 11 complied with all the requirements of the ordinance.

Wagner told the authorities she has received numerous complaints from taxpayers about the lack of accessibility to information and the authorities’ “seemingly opaque and distant operations.”

She wrote that the level of transparency is unacceptable with limited data available to taxpayers, inconvenient meetings times and locations and a reliance on conducting business in backroom “executive sessions.”

Korinski said he does not believe that the authorities have intentionally disregarded the provision.

“Probably they have not either known about the requirements of the administrative code or have been reminded about those at some time,” Korinski said.

He said he would think Allegheny County Council would take some further type of action to enforce the provision of its administrative code if the authorities do not comply within 30 days, but he believes they will comply once they are reminded.