There are more government databases becoming available to the public. This improved transparency is good. The usability of that data is improving as well. This is also good.
After the jump, an example from Richardson, and a wish for more.
The example from Richardson is the city's online check register. This is a fulfillment of a commitment to more transparent government made by the last two city councils. My compliments to the city council and city staff who made this possible.
The best feature (for a wonk) is the "Export All to Excel" button at the top of the page. This lets interested citizens download the data to their own computers to slice and dice the data to their heart's content (even if some of the analysis is of debatable value).
This brings me to my wish. There are two times a year when the City of Richardson releases tons of financial information to citizens. The first is in summer, when the annual budget is decided upon by the council and published. The second is in winter, when the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is published. The 2011 CAFR is due to be released today for review at today's city council meeting.
Making CAFR data available online is an improvement in transparency, but in the past I've voiced a few complaints about the lack of usability of data released by the city. Online PDF files are not a whole lot better than printed hard copies of the reports, especially if the PDF copy is made by physically scanning in a printed copy of the report.
My wish? Please, City of Richardson, publish this year's CAFR in spreadsheet format as well, like the online check register offers that alternative. Doing so would indicate that the city's interest in continuous improvement in transparency is alive and well. How about it?
By the way, if you want to know what to look for in this year's CAFR, a few key items in last year's CAFR were discussed in The Wheel late last summer. Those will be the details I will turn to first in this year's edition.