Monday, May 9, 2011

Orders on Transparency

Here is some background on two orders on tonight's City Council agenda.

The first is an order:

"that the City of Newburyport shall post on its website in an accessible place the Campaign Finance Reports-Municipal Forms which are submitted by candidates for Mayor, City Council, and School Committee. The Reports to be posted shall include the current year and the previous three years."

These are reports which all local candidates file with their local municipality and are then sent to the State. There isn't a place to find them online on the State's Office of Campaign and Political Finance--unlike candidates for State office which are very accessible.

The only municipality I've seen do this is the City of Holyoke at this site If you scroll to the bottom of the link, you'll find the information on their candidates.

The second is an order which I and Councillor Tom Jones have sponsored:

" that the City of Newburyport shall post on its website in an accessible place each municipal union contract for the current fiscal year and the previous three fiscal years."

I believe the only other municipality in Mass that does this is Tyngsborough. You can see the way they share the information at

Here is an old article from the Lowell Sun:

Tyngsboro employee contracts -- now just a click away

By John Collins,
Updated: 09/17/2010 08:53:01 AM EDT

TYNGSBORO -- The town gives Police Chief William Mulligan a police vehicle for his "unrestricted use within a 150-mile radius of the town."

Superintendent of Schools Don Ciampa gets a monthly check for $350 to cover his "travel, cell phone and miscellaneous expenses."

Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto's car and mileage expenses incurred on the job "shall not be reimbursable."

That's just a sampling of municipal job-contract provisions now just a few clicks away on the town's website,

This week, Tyngsboro became the first municipality in Massachusetts to post digital copies of all its current employee contracts online. There are 33 documents total -- including administrators' and school principals' contracts and collective-bargaining agreements for police officers, firefighters, custodians and clerical workers.

"I've not seen any other community's web pages put this type of information out there online," said Selectman Bob Jackson, who led the push to post all the contracts in a PDF-file format to make good on his campaign goal to achieve "full transparency" in town government.

"The lion's share of our tax dollars goes toward salaries and benefits, and these contracts define what those salaries and benefits are going to be," said Jackson. "So I strongly believe that the tax-paying stakeholders in the community have a right -- and elected officials have an obligation to make this information readily available to anybody that wants to read it."

Gilleberto and his office assistant, Theresa Gay, worked with Tyngsboro's media coordinator/webmaster, Rony Camille, to convert the contracts to PDF files for uploading to the "important employee documents" page on the town's website.

"It was a bit of a tedious process with a few glitches, but in the end it was just normal web work," said Camille. "I'm glad it's up there for everyone to see."

A Google search yesterday for the keywords, "town employee contracts posted online," produced no hits for Massachusetts towns other than Tyngsboro. The search results did show that two Rhode Island towns, North Kingstown and Coventry, have posted a smaller number of their employee contracts online.

"We keep everything wide open here, that's how we like it, transparent," said North Kingstown Town Councilman Michael Bestwick. "We're a leader in our forward thinking, and other towns are watching what we're doing."

Massachusetts Taxpayers Association Michael Widmer applauded Tyngsboro's town officials for setting an example that he hopes that all other Bay State communities will soon follow.

"Tyngsboro certainly is among the first to do this, and it's terrific, a major step forward," said Widmer. "The public has a right to see these contracts without having to go through bureaucratic hoops. It's a sign of good faith on the part of the town."

Transparency in government leads to better accountability for how tax dollars are spent, said Widmer.

"We're going through a period where people are very distrustful of government and this kind of initiative is something that can help restore the public trust," he said.

Now that anyone can read town contracts online, Jackson said the next step in the march toward complete transparency is to open future contract negotiating sessions to the public.

"I believe we should allow anybody from the public or media to come in, sit down and listen to the negotiation process, let them see what's being requested and offered by both sides," said Jackson.

"When it's not such a closed process, I believe it'll become fairer for everyone, and we'll end up with a better contract and better form of government."

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