Governing in the Shadows: Rating the Online Financial Transparency of Special District Governments

Source: Michelle Surka, Rachel Cross, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, Following the Money 2017: Special Districts, April 2017

From the summary:
Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.
“Special districts” are a type of government agency that exist outside of traditional forms of general purpose local or state governments, and serve key governmental functions such as public transit or housing. However, special districts are poorly understood by the public and often do business without adhering to modern standards of government budget or spending transparency. The lack of transparency and accountability of many special districts has caused concern among some state agencies and government watchdogs, as it can contribute to an atmosphere conducive to lowered efficiency and potential misconduct.

A review of 79 special districts’ online financial transparency shows that while a few districts are meeting the goals of “Transparency 2.0” – a standard of comprehensive, one-stop, oneclick budget accountability and accessibility – the vast majority do little to inform citizens about how they spend money. To empower and engage the public, enable citizen oversight of all branches of government, and improve the efficiency with which they operate, special districts, along with local and state governments, should expand the amount and improve the quality of spending data that are made available to the public online….
Related:
Press release

Most Special Districts Lag in the Transparency Department
Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, April 28, 2017

Special districts are all over, and according to one of the first nationwide reports on them, most aren’t revealing even basic information online about how they’re spending public money. …