Much has been said about the word “transparency” in regards to city government or any level of government for that matter. Some say that the City of Muscatine needs to be more transparent with the citizens of the community. For me, I am not sure how much more “transparent” the City of Muscatine can be.
A year ago I came to this community courtesy of another organization that was in dire need of leadership and quality control. They had lost their edge in meeting the communication needs of the citizens they served and charged me with bringing their vision back into focus.
That association did not last long for a number of reasons but I was able to accomplish some of what I was brought in to do. When we parted ways, the organization had a renewed emphasis on local communication sprinkled with increased respectability and accountability to the people they serve. That organization continues to use many of my ideas today which should do them well if they follow the game plan.
While I was with that organization I had a chance to interact with many of the department heads and city administrator for the City of Muscatine. I tended to ask a lot of questions, some more brilliant than others, about transparency, Open Records, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Verification is, or was, an important part of my previous line of work. Even when presented with the facts and figures we wanted to dig a little deeper for verified verification.
Knowing the trail I wanted to follow and asking the right questions proved to be a great learning experience. I got my answers with a little leg work, a little persistence, and it did not cost me an arm or a leg.
The City of Muscatine has always been transparent. Most every piece of paper within City Hall is available for public inspection once it has been run through the legal gauntlet. But City staff knew that with the technology today, the City could do more. Thus the alliance with OpenGov that was unveiled last July and brought a whole new layer to the transparency table.
No longer was it necessary for an organization to file an Open Records request, pay a substantial fee (still lower than many other municipalities, state, or federal organizations charge), and then wait several weeks while the documents are found, and read for information that is not related to the request or information that could not legally be released to the public.
Today, if someone wants to know where the City is spending their tax dollars, they can click on the OpenGov icon on the City of Muscatine web site and view various kinds of financial data that is updated daily by the Finance Department. A user can drill down into the data, search for items of interest, and even look at the check book to see who was paid what. You can even download this information for later use. All for free and all from the comfort of your own home.
But that is not where transparency ends with the City of Muscatine.
Many citizens have contacted the City through emails, phone calls, or personal visits requesting information, filing complaints, or just wanting to speak with someone about an issue they have a concern about. Every department head, every administrator, every employee takes the time to listen and to help where they can. And if they cannot, they find someone who can.
The City of Muscatine is a business and like all businesses we rely on the people of Muscatine for our jobs. If we do not take the time to answer questions, to listen to problems, or to work for a mutually agreeable solution, we are not doing all we can for the citizens of Muscatine or our visitors.
Transparency has been and will continue to be a vital part of our mission. Use OpenGov to view real time financial data. There is staff directory that lists email addresses and phone numbers of the various departments so if you have a question, fire it off. Make sure you properly identify yourself, put an appropriate phrase on the subject line, and you will receive an answer.
By Kevin Jenison, Communication Manager