OpenTheBooks Investigation: Open Baltimore City Transparency Website Isn’t Very Open 21_Baltimore_transparency

March 4, 2022 10:13 AM

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By Adam Andrzejewski

However, during the last week, working with the mayor, we helped make it a little bit better.

In April 2021, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a first ever city portal that opened the city’s vendor spending to the public. The website initially displayed the fiscal year 2020 line-by-line vendor transactions: transaction date, agency, service, spending category, fund account, vendor name and amount paid.

Quickly, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com downloaded the city’s 2020 checkbook. The mayor had moved the city into the transparency revolution and embraced the digital, electronic age.

The mayor had received a big political push from the new comptroller, Bill Henry. Henry won for office in the November 2020 election on a promise to open the city checkbook, i.e. a city spending dashboard.

As the portal approached the one-year anniversary, we looked at the current state of the transparency website. Here’s a summary of our findings:

  • Broken: the link to download the line-by-line vendor checkbook transaction data is broken (see attached screen record here). 
  • Error: A notice on the top of the website tells of a transaction date error on data listed between the months of December 2020 and March 2021. 
  • Incomplete Data: the FY2021 checkbook data is incomplete – the last four months of data in FY2021 isn't posted on the site yet (the fiscal year ended eight months ago, June 30)

Open Baltimore website: https://data.baltimorecity.gov/

Last week, on Wednesday, our auditors tried to call the number listed on the site for help. No one called us back over the last ten days.

Then, we sent in an open records request for the FY2021 city vendor checkbook. On Tuesday, March 1, we received a note from an open records officer within the mayor’s office that they might charge us a fee for the data!

Starting on March 1, we reached out to the comptroller Bill Henry for comment. Henry’s office punted our request to the mayor’s office.

Yesterday, the mayor’s office responded to our comment request with this statement. The mayor’s office also fixed the broken link, so the fiscal year 2020 checkbook could be downloaded again and made a commitment to invest more resources into the site.

OpenTheBooks.com, an organization that I founded and lead, hosts roughly 16,000 municipal level checkbooks on our website. 

As a public charity dedicated to transparency, we offer our services free of charge to the city – let us help you open the books on city spending. We want a good government partnership with the city.

Have a tip for our OpenTheBooks waste of the week in Baltimore? Email adam@openthebooks.com

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