Time for Transparency

By Michael Mena

April 2019

We live in an era of unprecedented distrust in government. Ironically, we also live in the information age. In 2019, people expect data and information to be available to them at their ngertips. We want to pull out our latest smart phone and immediately put the dinner table debate to bed with verifiable facts. So then why the distrust?

The Dalai Lama once said, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” As a local government, if we want to foster a sense of trust and security with our residents, transparency is fundamental. Although the City of Coral Gables has always strived for financial transparency – abiding by applicable laws, operating in the sunshine, and employing staff who spend hours upon hours responding to public records requests – we can and must do more.

Transparency alone is not enough; our information must also be easily accessible. Do you want to know how much that park cost? Do you want to know how many taxpayer dollars were spent on those sidewalks or review a breakdown of annual pension contributions? I do, too. City staff can get you that information, but I believe that information should be available to you at your fingertips.

With that goal in mind, the City of Coral Gables has partnered with OpenGov to provide residents, business owners and the public at large with an online portal that fosters financial and operational visibility, openness, and accountability. The platform allows you to manipulate and access the City’s financial data in a variety of ways and is designed to be user-friendly, implementing pictures and frequently asked questions that quickly lead you to the information sought.

Residents can access the Coral Gables Financial Transparency Platform at www.coralgables.com/financial-transparency. From there, you can follow prompts to review the City’s budget, sources of general revenue funds, capital improvement projects (including their current status and projected completion dates), and much more.

While this transparency platform is still in its nascency and there remains room for ample augmentation, I believe that its conception is an imperative step toward an elevated dialogue with our residents. Reasonable people can have respectful disagreements on issues of substance. But to engage in a productive discourse, we need to lay all our cards on the table. As residents, you should never fear that our budget process is an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Instead, you should have total and complete ease of access to the City’s financial information and budget. If the City cannot defend its decisions against such scrutiny, what good are those decisions?

As an elected official in a representative democracy, I owe a duty to the people of Coral Gables to represent your interests. An important aspect of that role is ensuring responsible financial stewardship of your taxpayer dollars. By increasing transparency, we nurture a greater level of trust, we improve the speed, efficiency and quality of our decision making, and, most importantly, we hold ourselves accountable.

Michael Mena is a Coral Gables City Commissioner and a partner in the Akerman law firm.