CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan on Monday ordered all county departments, agencies, commissions, school districts, boards, authorities and commissions to post information online about their operations, in order to boost transparency in government.
Bergen Executive Kathleen Donovan
Some of those bodies already have been posting the information, but others have offered little — or don’t even have a web presence, Jeanne Baratta, Donovan’s chief of staff, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT early this evening.
“She’d like to see all the authorities and utilities do that,” Baratta said. “The county executive has wanted that information to be out there for the public to see.
“She just wants to make sure it’s done.”
An executive order issued by Donovan affects, among others, Bergen County Community College, the county vocational and techical schools, the county utilities authority and improvement authority, and the Northwest Bergen County Utility Authority — some of whom Donovan had battled openly with over becoming less secretive.
Donovan said the information they must post online should include, among other items:
• The adopted budget for the current fiscal year and three preceding fiscal years;
• The most recent financial report or other similar financial information;
• The annual audit for the current and preceding threefiscal years;
• Notice of upcoming meetings no later than five days in advance;
• The approved minutes of each meeting of the governing body, as well as its committees.
The order comes in advance of a bill expected to be signed by Governor Christie that requires local public authorities and commissions to establish and maintain web sites with specific information about their business dealings. The Senate last week passed the measure, which already had been approved by the Assembly.
Besides the requirements outlined by Donovan, boards in New Jersey would also have to list any consultants, attorneys or other independent business with an agency contract of $17,500 or more, under the state bill. Also required: the names and contact information of involved officials.
“Open and transparent government is always the best approach, and that’s what this bill will accomplish,” said Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos Jr. (D-Hudson), one of the measure’s co-sponsors.
The bill came about as a result of a state comptroller’s report that found a lack of transparency in local authorities and commissions throughout New Jersey.
The irony for many is that our culture is dominated by social networks that reveal even the most insignificant details about individuals. When it comes to public agencies and rate-payer authorities in New Jersey that literally spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year, it’s a different story.
According to state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, only 8 percent of all of the local authorities and commissions reviewed posted the most basic of information — schedules, agendas and minutes of public meetings (As in: seven of 587). A full half don’t even have web sites.
Christie has collectively dubbed these bodies the state’s “shadow government.”
Donovan has pressed the issue since becoming county executive.
She has hammered several authorities, boards and commissions for running up bills for personal expenses, as well as increasing pay and benefits and awarding lucrative contracts at a time when government should be shrinking, not growing, amid a worsening economy.
Donovan hasn’t painted all with a broad brush. Rather, she has targeted individual groups that she said have taken the most outrageous steps.
In the end, Baratta, her chief of staff, said that Donovan hopes greater transparency will not only reduce cronyism and waste but will also make it much easier for taxpayers to get more involved in how their money as spent.
Just last week, Donovan vetoed pay raises for management employees at the Northwest Bergen Utilities Authority, as well as cash stipends and health benefits for its commissioners — then demanded they all quit.
The NWBCUA was the last agency in the county to provide stipends for commissioners along with health benefits at the expense of taxpayers, said Donovan, who earlier this year abolished stipends to the county Construction Board of Appeals.
In her veto message to NWBCUA Chair William Dator, Donovan said, “The Authority has provided for itself raises which will cost the taxpayers a total of $89,000 between increased salary and the fringe costs associated with such raises.”
The moves were part of a $15.6 million 2012 budget adopted by the authority’s nine commissioners — up nearly 5 percent from this year (SEE: Donovan vetoes management raises and benefits).
Transparency was the one of both Donovan and Christie’s major platforms when they ran for office.
Soon after Christie took charge, state government had a “Transparency Center.” The web site includes tools that he said are intended to “help taxpayers better understand public finances, make government more accountable and, ultimately, make an essential contribution to the Governor’s effort to provide top quality services at prices the taxpayer can afford.” Go to: YourMoney.NJ.Gov
WHEREAS, the New Jersey Legislature has deemed it necessary to propose and adopt Assembly Bill No. 3908, which requires local authorities and commissions to establish an Internet Website and to provide definitive information on the Website about the entity; and
WHEREAS, Assembly Bill No. 3908, passed by both houses of the Legislature, seeks to implement recommendations contained in the report of the State Comptroller that would require local authorities and commissions to comply with the Act’s On-Line Transparency provisions in connection with the Websites of various Authorities and Commissions; and
WHEREAS, the County Executive firmly believes that one of the most crucial components of County Government is the openness and transparency of all County Government; and
WHEREAS, Assembly Bill No. 3908 would foster and enhance Bergen County’s existing transparency requirements especially as it relates to all County Departments, Agencies, Commissions, School Districts, Boards and other Authorities and Commissions for which the County has oversight over and/or funds in whole or in part; and
WHEREAS, the County Executive believes that requiring the County’s Departments, Agencies, School Districts, Authorities and Commissions to post certain basic yet significant information about each entity will make the County Government even more transparent and open to the citizens of the County; and
WHEREAS, the County Executive also believes that such required information and transparency in government should be reduced to a written directive that can be followed by all elected and appointed officials of the various County entities enumerated herein.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, KATHLEEN A. DONOVAN, County Executive of Bergen County, by virtue of the authority vested in me, do hereby order and direct all of the County’s Departments, Agencies, Boards, Commissions, Authorities, School districts, including but not limited to the County College, and other County entities to establish and maintain a website and to post on each website the following information:
1. A description of the entity’s mission and responsibilities;
2. The adopted budget for the current fiscal year and three preceding fiscal years;
3. The most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or other similar financial information;
4. The annual audit for the most recent fiscal year and three preceding fiscal years;
5. The entity’s rules, regulations, resolutions and official policy statements;
6. Notice, posted at least five business days prior to a meeting of the entity’s governing body or any of its committees, setting forth the time, date, location and agenda of the meeting.
7. The approved minutes of each meeting of the governing body and its committees; and
8. The name and phone number of a principal executive officer having overall responsibility for the operations of the entity.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, this Executive Order shall take effect immediately and shall remain in effect until terminated by action of the County Executive.
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