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COLUMN

Happytown: Orlando gets C-plus for transparency

Florida PIRG says city could be better at making government docs and policies more accessible to public

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While Gov. Rick Scott may have been the one enduring the glare of the Florida "sunshine" for his bogus teacher bonus charade, Orlando took a little bit of heat this week for its apparent lacking in the transparency department. On Jan. 23, the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released a report titled "Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America's Largest Cities." The biggest finding – beyond the inscrutable fact that Orlando ranks as one of America's largest cities – was that city government is just so-so when it comes to allowing its books to be easily searched for budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services. Orlando, in the report, received a weekend-ruining grade of C-plus (Tampa got a D, haha).

"City spending has a profound impact on residents' lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health. Spending transparency can help Orlando residents hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent," Florida PIRG federal tax and budget associate Ryan Pierannunzi said in a press release. Though Florida PIRG applauds Orlando's "provision of features such as searchable and downloadable checkbook-level city spending information," you have to dig a little harder than you should to get there. Trust us. We spend every week of our lives digging through that morass.

The 56-page report (which was released simultaneously with a separate report comparing states on the issue of transparency; Florida got a D, which probably would have gotten Gov. Scott fired if he were a teacher) argues that governments should be veering more effectively into the realm of searchable online databases for "checkbook-level" detail, seemingly making the timely argument that Florida (and its cities) should embrace the web product Transparency 2.0. That program, which we wrote about late last year ["Tallahassee's conflicted interest," Dec. 19], cost the state $5.5 million to outsource, and was developed despite the fact that there was not an open bidding process on it, ironically. Some senators have recently been opening their uncensored fat mouths about the deal as some kind of deflection routine. Some are just chewing on their feet.

"Candidly, I'm not in favor of disclosing all the itty-bitty memos that go back and forth between myself and various staff members or other members of the legislature," Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said, according to the News Service of Florida. "I'm sorry. If the public doesn't have any greater faith and confidence in my judgment than that, then they don't need to re-elect me."

Hooray. Perhaps Hays would like to relocate out of the boonies and into Orange County. They're almost certain to embrace his bold evasiveness and secrecy on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. Bring your iPhone, Alan!

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