Panel touts state auditor’s local government transparency program

October 1 – MORGANTOWN – Government doesn’t make money – it’s a steward of the people’s money, according to officials from OpenGov and Project Mountaineer.

On Thursday evening, West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey, OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman, and West Virginia County Commissioners and Mayors gathered in the Waterfront Hotel Boardroom to celebrate the 40th county in the state joining Project Mountaineer.

Project Mountaineer was initiated by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office. Its objective is to provide departmental commissions and municipalities with software for recording and reporting expenses, free of charge. The software used is called OpenGov and it is a modern and easy-to-use reporting solution, according to Bookman and McCuskey.

“Our citizens have better access to their governance information than anywhere in the country. Today we celebrate our local government, which overall has jumped at the chance to be part of this revolution transparency,” McCuskey said.

The event also served as a roundtable among leaders on how they used Project Mountaineer and OpenGov software in their cities and counties.

The software creates a report and creates a data visualization that makes it easier to spot input errors and enables predictability, McCuskey said.

“So what you can then start to see are the trends as well as the employers. But more importantly, every week we get a report of fraud in a local government or a local government agency that some constituents have found on our website,” McCuskey said.

Bookman said that, from an external and independent perspective, West Virginia went from the least transparent state to the most transparent in terms of taxpayer spending and finance information.

Roundtable panelists included Monongalia County Commissioners and Hosts Sean Sikora and Tom Bloom, Kanawha County Commissioner Lance Wheeler, Summers County Commissioner Ted Kula, Jefferson County Commissioner Tricia Jackson, Mayor of Elkins Jerry Marco and Treasurer Tracy Judy and Mayor of Parkersbrug Tom Joyce. The discussion was led by Skylar Wotring, Director of Transparency and Oversight for the Office of the State Auditor.

Panelists explained how they are able to use the software and how important transparency is to them – some of them have even based their re-election campaigns on it.

Joyce said her mother, who is 77, doesn’t care about software at all, but for the next generation of citizens, it’s incredibly useful because they’re very tech-focused. He explained that sometimes during county commission meetings he will use OpenGov to double-check information.

Bloom said he sends updates via email, so that information is made available to the public quickly and he can avoid encounters with “trolls”, trying to say he doesn’t was not transparent.

“We discuss policies, but we don’t discuss facts. We spread the news, we can take argument off the table and then we can have decent policy arguments,” Sikora said.

McCuskey also presented Judy, Sikora and Bloom with Project Mountaineer Achievement Awards for their work in their city and county.

“I’m glad to see that software like this and really want to get transparency and accountability from municipalities, counties and the state as well. I think that’s important and a very necessary direction in which the state is finally going,” Judy said.

Monongalia County was the first to join Project Mountaineer, so McCuskey said they will always have a special place in his heart. Bloom and Sikora said they were proud to be part of it.

“It’s wonderful to be able to come up with an idea and with what we have here we are able to do something and move forward. I think the main thing in Monongalia County is that we don’t say it can’t be done because we’re going to work hard and get it done,” Bloom said.

For more information on OpenGov, visit their website. Visit WVCheckbook.com to see state spending.

Contact me at [email protected] or 304-367-2549.

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