Council members hold special meeting for update on transparency website

Phoenix city councilmembers prepare for the the special meeting regarding creating a transparency website.(Nicole Dusanek/DD)

By Nicole Dusanek and Holly Miller

Phoenix City Council members voted to send a potential update to the city’s transparency website back to a subcommittee Tuesday night. The decision prompted discussion from three city council members, who were concerned about the transparency of local government.

The disagreement came at a special meeting session to discuss potential advancements in the public’s access to financial transactions of the offices of council members and the mayor.

The meeting called for additional government transparency of finances in an outlined document of discretionary funds used by the mayor and council members’ offices. But shortly after the meeting started, Mayor Greg Stanton made a motion to have the item sent to the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee rather than have council vote on it at the time.

According to the letter on the public meeting notice, the transparency website would include more detailed information on finances within the city government and have the possibility to create a searchable database of lobbyists.

Sal DiCiccio, District 6, Michael Nowakowski, District 7, and Jim Waring, District 2, did not agree because they felt public transparency of government finances was undermined.

“It seems like we’re trying to hide something,” Nowakowski said. “The residents of Phoenix need us to be more open and more transparent and I’m just very disappointed.”

Nowakowski said he felt adding more details on financial statements is ethical and the right thing to do for the Phoenix government and the city’s residents.

The Phoenix Open Data Portal is the main public source for the city government’s financial records. According to Waring, some information is accessible through comprehensive research on the Open Data Portal, but the site can be ambiguous and difficult to navigate.

Waring said anyone is able to see the mayor’s office expense of $1,313.31 on August 16, 2016, but there is no explanation of the expense.

“To say this [issue of transparency] is something that hasn’t been known for a long time is wrong,” Waring said. “I’m comfortable with everybody looking at whatever we’re purchasing, I’m sure the other offices are fine too.”

Waring said the financial transparency involves primarily government expenditures and poses no safety dilemmas to council members.

DiCiccio was in favor of the implementation of a better transparency website, but was conflicted on whether to pass the issue on to the subcommittee.

“It’s going to be sent to a committee and buried,” DiCiccio said. “We can do this repeatedly until this gets heard and brought forward. At the end of the day you’re going to need to hear it out and have the debate.”

The item was ultimately sent to the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee. DiCiccio voted in favor of passing the motion to the subcommittee, because he said in time through meetings the issue will gain momentum, awareness and exposure.

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