Beacon Journal editorial: Get on the transparency train

Editorial from The Akron Beacon Journal

Josh Mandel has been a politician in a big hurry. Shortly after winning the office of Ohio treasurer, he jumped into the race for the U.S. Senate, appearing overmatched by the quest and losing to Sherrod Brown. He since has won re-election, and now, as treasurer, is applying his impatience in a more constructive fashion.

Mandel has been pressing for local governments to follow state offices and participate in, a website put together by the treasurer’s office and designed to allow Ohioans to follow in detail public spending by government entities. The site is a valuable contribution, adding new dimensions of transparency and accountability. As Mandel readily notes, Ohio not long ago ranked among the least transparent states, and now, with this new tool, it is one of the most transparent.

Part of what makes the site effective is the Google-like search mechanism. It is simple, intuitive and comprehensive. The public will find value in such things as the ease in tracking expenditures and making comparisons among local governments.

The city of Stow was the first local entity in Summit County to join OhioCheckbook. Next came New Franklin. The roster now includes the cities of Tallmadge, Cuyahoga Falls and Barberton. All told, 435 local governments (out of nearly 3,300) have committed. On that list are the city schools and the county and city governments in some of the state’s largest urban areas, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Columbus and Youngstown.

The Akron Public Schools, the city of Akron and Summit County are not participants. They should get on board early in the new year.

Mandel has won the commitment of all five state pension systems (four last week). The treasurer has in mind state universities joining next. The pension funds were the target of Mandel jawing in public. That pressure is fair play. If some worry about the miscasting of data for partisan advantage, they have a point. Yet such costs are far outweighed by the public benefit.

For his part, the treasurer is advancing something that features little but upsides. He rightly has talked about the logic of JobsOhio, the privatized arm of state economic development, taking part. Yet he must take care not to lose his way, as he is prone to do, because of opportunism.

As the Dayton Daily News reported, the treasurer was slow to start cajoling charter schools. He now has invited them to post their data. In the spirit of following the public money, he would do well to push for-profit charter school operators to do the same. Mandel may see cover in a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling. Yet the justices cited the failings of lawmakers, not a clear legal principle about public money somehow turning into private funds.

How about this amount of transparency, Mandel having received big campaign money from for-profit charter operators?

The treasurer wants the public to have a greater chance of seeing how its money is spent. He could not be more right.