County spending for seven years accessible online
Published 11:39 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Warren County’s spending habits over the past seven years are included with detailed information from 61 other Mississippi counties on an website for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
The private, nonprofit group’s site shows how most counties are spending public money — the result of more than a year of public records requests with chancery clerks, who are the top financial record-keepers in the counties. People can search the center’s website to see how much money has been spent on everything from office supplies to elected officials’ travel expenses. The site requires registrations by name, e-mail address and location. Searches yield results when a vendor or payee is entered, along with department and spending category.
“In essence, we are posting the counties’ checkbook registry,” the center’s director, Forest Thigpen, said in unveiling the updated site, seethespending.org, Tuesday.
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Hinds is the only county in the state that ignored the public records request, Thigpen said. He said 19 counties have said it might be difficult to provide the data in electronic form.
Thigpen said Madison County Chancery Clerk Arthur Johnson was among the officials most receptive to providing information for the website. Johnson said it took about six months for the county to remove sensitive information, such as employees’ addresses or Social Security numbers.
Johnson said he helped persuade several other chancery clerks to disclose the public information.
“I think it’s important that citizens understand how the government is spending their money. I think it gives citizens that tangible benefit,” Johnson said Tuesday.
“There’s a benefit to the counties, too, because we can see maybe instances where we might could do a better job with our purchasing,” he said. “Maybe there are better bargains out there that we’re not getting because we simply don’t know there’s a vendor that might provide this service or this product at a cheaper cost.”
Thigpen said the site could be updated in the next few months with details about counties’ budget year that ends Sept. 30.
The Mississippi Center for Public Policy has posted state agencies’ budget information online since September 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.