One Order of Transparency

By Jeff Hansen, CPFO, Finance Director, City of Golden, Colorado

For years, I have been resistant to the level of financial transparency of putting transactional financial information on our City's website.  My concern is that by making this information available to the public without providing the appropriate context to go with it, the public can misconstrue the information and make claims of misuse or abuse of taxpayer dollars.  Once those claims are out there, the City is fighting an uphill battle of educating the public and doing damage control.

At the City of Golden, we post the monthly sales tax reports, the quarterly financial reports, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, and our Biennial Budgets to our website.  All of these documents include a narrative that helps put the financial information into the proper context.  Our website also invites the public to contact me if they have questions about any of this information or if they would like any other financial information.  In my eighteen years as finance director at the City, I never received inquiries from the public about our financial information due to them looking at the information on our website.

Over the last couple of years, one citizen has been persistent that the City needed to make all financial transaction information available on our website, so the public has access to it at their convenience.  Several Council members jumped on that bandwagon, and it became clear that my resistance was done.

There are several companies out there that partner with local governments to create a transparency platform. The City of Golden chose an industry leader as our partner in this endeavor. The vendor, coupled with our Financial Software provider, allows us to provide citizens the ability to search, filter, chart, graph, and export data. We went live in July,, providing the transactional data every month, which allows us to review and redact any confidential information before posting it to our website. Our technology partners are developing functionality that will flag certain vendors or types of transactions as confidential so the system can automatically redact them. At that point, we will post transactional data daily. 

So far, we've had about ten unique users from the public view the platform. I've received three inquiries from citizens regarding the information on the platform, two of which are from my persistent citizen. 

Time will tell whether it's worth the time and effort to do this compared to the benefit for the public, but it's not worth falling on the sword over.