Anyone can now go online to access the city of Anchorage’s spending and other financial records without filing a records request. The city launched its new online checkbook Thursday.
The Assembly approved the project a year ago. Assembly chair Chris Constant said he and other members were having trouble getting contracts and other financial records from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration — and they wanted more transparency.
“It’s become very difficult to get documents and records from the administration that are public records that should be as easy as sending an email,” Constant said. “It shouldn’t take six months to get a contract.”
At the time, Bronson also faced allegations from his former municipal manager that his administration was improperly granting contracts without Assembly approval.
Constant admits the new website is a little dense, but he said it provides information pertaining to a wide range of financial data.
“You can look at municipal revenues, filtered by fiscal year, period, business area, customer name, what account, when,” Constant said. “You can look at expenditure reports, so you can pick a vendor you think has contracts with the municipality.”
Currently the financial records in the checkbook go back to 2018, though Constant said the goal is to have it compile up to 10 years of historical data.
Constant said a great example of transparency in local government is the city of Normal, Ill. The town of roughly 53,000 people has a robust open data web portal giving people access to finances as well as permits and licensing information and public safety activity.
“Almost all of the government records at your fingertips,” Constant said, “whether it’s road construction projects, being able to zoom in on a project in your neighborhood, and you being able to find out how it was funded, who the project manager is and how to contact them. Why not? It’s all public information.”
Constant said he’s hopeful that the new online checkbook will make Anchorage’s government more transparent, as well as relieve city staff of the burden of tracking down records.
“It’s to make it easier for the public to see who’s getting funded, how they’re getting funded, why they’re getting funded,” Constant said. “But also for my staff, who I want to make sure don’t have to do make work, and instead can focus on the work of running our city efficiently and effectively.”
In a statement, Bronson spokeswoman Veronica Hoxie wrote that the mayor supports the city’s online checkbook initiative.
“Mayor Bronson very much supports government transparency and applauds the municipal departments that worked hard to get us to this point to launch the online checkbook tool,” Hoxie said.
Moving forward, Constant said the city is working on a slate of other efforts to improve transparency, including modifying the online checkbook to display actual contracts and copies of checks issued by the city, as well as portals to access public records that go beyond finances.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Mayor Bronson.