Tag Archives: transparency

Choosing Priorities in Government Spending

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Cleveland Heights, OH

The city council wants more money. They decided to pay a research group to do a survey. You can see the survey at the end of the article in this link.

The survey provides some great insights into how voters perceive city spending. One section in particular where respondents gave their opinion of what cuts they would be more willing to see.

If the tax increase fails, the City will have to cut its budget by about another two and a half million dollars or six percent. Please tell me if you would favor or oppose a six percent cut in each of the following city services. The first one is … Do you favor or oppose a six percent cut in that?

  • Fire protection and EMS service  Favor 10%/82% Oppose
  • Police protection Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Trash collection and recycling  Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Street repair  Favor 16%/76% Oppose
  •  Snow Plowing  Favor 17%/75% Oppose
  •  Parks and recreation  Favor 25%/64% Oppose

I took the liberty of placing these in the order of importance to the respondents. It may be that voters in Cleveland Heights have have great roads and their EMS service is lacking, but I think it’s more likely these are typical priorities for residents. Voters see some government spending as more important than other government spending. Police and Firefighters showing up when you need help is more important than a city park you may or may not use.

Ranking services and prioritizing spending is not something we hear about when cities want to increase taxes. Instead we hear about cutting schools, roads, or police and fire. This poll shows voters have priorities, city councils should also.

Instead of asking for a tax increase to fund roads or schools elected officials should increase transparency and ask voters for tax increases to fund the city services that are the least important to taxpayers.

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Michigan Forfeiture Reporting 2015

From Michigan Capitol Confidential:

A package of bills designed to give the public access to information on property seized by, or forfeited to, government entities is under consideration by a state House committee. The legislation would require government entities across the state to submit annual reports to the Michigan State Police (MSP) on property they’ve seized or received through forfeiture. The information would be compiled, issued in an annual report to the Legislature and posted on the MSP website.

AssetForfeitureBillsSummary

HB 4500 Introduced by Representative Jim Runestad

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 79D. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS ACT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING  ACT.

HB 4503 Introduced by Representative Triston Cole

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 4710. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS CHAPTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

HB 4504 Introduced by Representative Klint Kesto

A bill to create the uniform forfeiture reporting act; to require certain reports by reporting agencies regarding seized and forfeited property; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain local and state officials; to provide for certain fees and the expenditure of those fees; to require certain audits; to require certain reports by the department of state police; to provide for the withholding of law enforcement funds under certain circumstances; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
Sec. 1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the “uniform forfeiture reporting act”.
Sec. 2. (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), before February 1 of each year, each reporting agency shall submit a report to the department of state police summarizing the reporting agency’s activities for the preceding calendar year regarding the forfeiture of property under sections 7521 to 7533 of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7521 to 333.7533, chapter 38 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3801 to 600.3840, and chapter 47 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.4701 to 600.4709. The annual report shall contain the following information, as applicable:
(a) The number of forfeiture proceedings that were instituted in the circuit court by the reporting agency.
(b) The number of forfeiture proceedings instituted by the reporting agency that were concluded in the circuit court.
(c) The number of all forfeiture proceedings instituted by the reporting agency that were pending in the circuit court at the end of the year.
(d) The number of forfeitures effectuated by the reporting agency without a forfeiture proceeding in the circuit court.
(e) The number of forfeiture proceedings subject to a plea or any other similar agreement involving the property owner and reporting agency.
(f) An inventory of property received by the reporting agency. Property shall be reported in accordance with each of the following categories:
(i) Residential real property.
(ii) Industrial or commercial real property.
(iii) Agricultural real property.
(iv) Money, negotiable instruments, and securities.
(v) Weapons.
(vi) Motor vehicles and other conveyances.
(vii) Other personal property of value.
(g) Each property inventoried under subdivision (f) shall include a description that contains the following information, as applicable:
(i) The date the property was seized.
(ii) The final disposition of the property, including the date the property was ordered forfeited or disposed of.
(iii) The estimated value of the property.
(iv) The violation or nuisance alleged to have been committed for which forfeiture is authorized.
(v) Whether any person was charged with the violation for which forfeiture is authorized and whether that person was ultimately convicted of that violation.
(vi) The number of claimants to the property.
(vii) Whether the forfeiture resulted from an adoptive seizure. As used in this subdivision, “adoptive seizure” means that all of the following apply:
(A) The seizure resulted from a violation of state law and there is a federal basis for the forfeiture action.
(B) All of the preseizure activity and related investigations were performed by this state or the local reporting agency before a request was made to the federal government for adoption.
(C) The seizure did not result from a joint investigation or task force case.
(h) The net total proceeds of all property forfeited through actions instituted by the reporting agency that the reporting agency is required to account for and report to the state treasurer under either of the following, as applicable:
(i) 1919 PA 71, MCL 21.41 to 21.55.
(ii) The uniform budgeting and accounting act, 1968 PA 2, MCL  141.421 to 141.440a.
(i) For forfeiture proceedings instituted under the public
health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.1101 to 333.25211:
(i) A statement explaining how any money received by the reporting agency under section 7524(1)(b)(ii) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7524, has been used or is being used for law enforcement purposes.
(ii) A statement of the number of lights for plant growth or scales donated under section 7524(2) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7524, the total value of those lights or scales, and the elementary or secondary schools or institutions of higher education to which they were donated.
(j) For nuisance proceedings instituted under chapter 38 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3801 to 600.3840, a statement explaining how net proceeds were directed under section 3835 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3835.
(k) For forfeiture proceedings instituted under chapter 47 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.4701 to 600.4709, the amount of money received under section 4708(1)(f) of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 235, MCL 600.4708, that was used to enhance enforcement of criminal laws and the amount of money that was used to implement the William Van Regenmorter crime victim’s rights act, 1985 PA 87, MCL 780.751 to 780.834.
(2) Subsection (1) applies only to proceedings commenced on or after the effective date of this act.
(3) Subsection (1)(g) through (k) applies only to proceedings that have been finalized for purposes of appeal.
Sec. 3. A null report shall be filed under this act by a reporting agency that did not engage in any forfeitures during the reporting period.
Sec. 4. A reporting agency may use forfeiture proceeds to pay the reasonable costs associated with compiling, analyzing, and reporting data under this act.
Sec. 5. (1) The records of a reporting agency regarding the forfeiture of any property that is required to be reported under this act shall be audited in accordance with 1 of the following, as applicable:
(a) 1919 PA 71, MCL 21.41 to 21.55.
(b) The uniform budgeting and accounting act, 1968 PA 2, MCL 141.421 to 141.440a.
(2) The records of a reporting agency regarding the forfeiture of any property required to be reported under this act may be audited by an auditor of the local unit of government.
Sec. 6. The department of state police shall compile the information reported to the department under sections 2 and 3. Beginning January 1, 2016, the department shall file an annual report of its findings under this section with the secretary of the senate and with the clerk of the house of representatives and shall place a copy of the report on its departmental website. The report shall be filed not later than July 1 of each year. The report shall identify any state departments or agencies or local units of government that have failed to properly report the information required under sections 2 and 3 with the department of state police.
Sec. 7. As used in this act:
(a) “Local unit of government” means a village, city, township, or county.
(b) “Reporting agency” means 1 of the following:
(i) If property is seized by or forfeited to a local unit of government, that local unit of government.
(ii) If property is seized by or forfeited to this state, the state department or agency effectuating the seizure or forfeiture.

HB 4506 Introduced by Representative Jason Sheppard

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 7524B. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS ARTICLE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT OR REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

HB 4507 Introduced by Representative Brandt Iden 

 THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 3841. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS CHAPTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

 

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Filed under asset forfeiture, transparency, Uncategorized

Whatcom, Washington Charter Amendments To Restrict Non-Profits

Whatcom County, WA has some interesting charter amendments being talked about by their charter review commission.

The Bellingham Herald has been covering the charter review process. From a recent article:

A conservative member of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission seeks to restrict the county government’s funding of nonprofits. This would be the second such proposal put forward by the commission.

A county charter amendment by commissioner Wes Kentch that is scheduled to be introduced at tonight’s commission meeting in Ferndale would require nonprofit nongovernmental organizations seeking money from the county to complete an application. The county could not commit to funding a nonprofit longer than two years, and the organization must meet certain requirements to qualify for funding.

Text of the amendment:

AMENDMENT:
Section: 6.91 – Non Profit NGO Request for Proposal Transparency
6.92 – Non Profit NGO Financial Statements Transparency
6.93 – Non Profit NGO Donor Disclosure Transparency
6.94 – Non Profit NGO Ineligibility When Legislating Through the Courts
Section 6.91 Non Profit NGO Request for Proposal Transparency
Any project involving any disbursement or receipt of monies, by Whatcom County, to or from any nonprofit NGO shall be initiated with a Request for Proposals (RFP) drafted by Whatcom County.
All agreements involving transmittal of funds between Whatcom County and any nonprofit NGO shall have a sunset clause based on the biennial budget. No sunset clause shall be extended without a new RFP process.
Any Local Integrating Organization funding passing through Whatcom County accounts to any
nonprofit NGO, excluded by law or custom from a Whatcom County RFP process, shall require full financial
disclosure by the nonprofit NGO to Whatcom County, as outlined In Section 6.92.
Section 6.92 Nonprofit NGO Financial Statements Transparency
Any nonp rofit NGO transmitting funds to or from Whatcom County shall provide full financial statements to Whatcom County, externally audited by a certified accountant, including statements of assets and balances, income and expenses, fund reserve allocations, and donors, from the two fiscal years prior to the date of RFP submittal, and for any interim year(s) while the submittal is processed, and for a period of two years following any transmittal of funds.
The penalty for falsified financial statements shall be return of 100% of funds qualified by the falsified information, and ineligibility to partner financially with Whatcom County for ten years from the date that such financial information is ruled falsified.
Section 6.93 Non Profit NGO Donor Disclosure Transparency
Any nonprofit NGO who may legally receive donations from non-disclosed donors shall be ineligible to transmit funds between themselves and Whatcom County.
Any nonprofit NGO who may legally transmit funds between themselves and another nonprofit NGO whose donors are legally non-disclosed shall be ineligible to transmit funds between themselves and Whatcom County.
Section 6.94 Non Profit NGO Ineligibility When Legislating Through the Courts
Any nonp rofit NGO initiating or supporting, with funding, legal briefs or official sanctions, litigation or citizen voter initiatives, impacting the Whatcom County Code or Charter in any way, or any other legislative codes binding on Whatcom County land and water planning processes, shall be ineligible for funding or project relationships with Whatcom County for a period of ten years after the date of final court settlement of such litigation.
Contractual agreements and projects in effect between Whatcom County and such a nonprofit NGO when such litigation or citizen voters initiatives are initiated or supported may be immediately terminated.

A previously proposed amendment would have banned outright county funding of nonprofits.

That amendment:

Title:   Shall the County Charter prohibit grants and expenditures to non-profit organizations unless the County is reimbursed by another organization or jurisdiction?
Section:   (new)
Section 6.74 Charitable AppropriationsAmendment:
Section 6.74 Charitable Appropriations The Whatcom County Executive and the Whatcom County councilmembers shall not distribute county funds via grants or expenditures, whether budgeted or non-budgeted, to charitable, educational, civic, homeowners, neighborhood, arts, trade, business, religious or scientific non-profit organizations or any other similar types of community organizations/groups not mentioned herein, unless the grant or expenditure is directly reimbursed by community, private, state, or federal grant agencies for the identical purposes for which the agency/government grant is provided.

There is opposition to this form of transparency. From Philanthropy Northwest:

The new proposal asks “shall the charter be amended to increase transparency in funding between Whatcom County and nonprofit non-government organizations (NGOs)?” It’s a seemingly benign question. After all, who isn’t for more transparency in the public sector? However, this proposal is clearly not about transparency. It is also not about best practice for all entities with which a county may conduct business. It’s about erecting barriers to the provision of “those types of services” by “that type of organization.” It also contradicts federal regulation.

First, in defining “financial statement transparency,” the proposal requires any nonprofit desiring to do business with the county to undergo an external audit. While an external audit is good business practice, it is widely understood to be both unnecessary and prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of nonprofit organizations.

 

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Filed under charter amendment, crony capitalism, politicians, Uncategorized

To See Or Not To See

Transparent government is a popular issue. Unless you’re in power.

On Tuesday, the White House published a notice in the Federal Register, deleting the regulation that required the Office of Administration to be subject to public information requests, which would have required a response under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Office of Administration is made up of seven offices that are in charge of overseeing the general administration of the entire Executive Office.

transparency2This is a much different take than we would expect from a representative government.

 

An example of good policy can be found in Asheville, North Carolina.

Transparent access is an essential duty for those in public service. “We have a very strong commitment to providing access to information,” says Scott Barnwell, a member of the Code for Asheville brigade and an employee for the Asheville IT services department. “From our perspective, it’s not just about following local and state statutes, but taking them a step further towards more accessibility. It’s providing what the people want.”

The more power politicians have and the longer they have that power, the less they seek to serve the public and the more they seek to enshrine their power.

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Filed under politicians, transparency