Making good on a campaign promise three months into his first term, Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes has begun placing the county’s accounts payable reports online.
“The big word nowadays is transparency,” Hayes said during the election, in which he ousted longtime Clerk Dan English. Hayes said that if elected, he’d put every check the county writes online so residents can see how their money is spent.
Three of the weekly reports are now available and include the $62.22 commissioners spent at Garlic Jim’s for lunch, the $311 information services spent on a printer maintenance kit and the $46,000 spent on a used wheel loader for snow removal. Everything from dog food for Juvenile Probation’s drug-sniffing dog, Beau, to airfare, lodging and meals for conferences is line-itemed on the weekly reports.
Hayes said the project was supported by all elected officials but that part of the challenge was “getting specific descriptions for each expense entered in plain language.”
James Martin, information services director, said putting the information online was easy, because the weekly reports already were being produced. Martin said he scrutinizes his department’s expenses, but posting information online makes him think twice about whether expenses are justifiable or whether he’s getting the best price.
“I think that’s what Cliff’s goal was, full disclosure,” Martin said.
Since the reports first surfaced online almost a month ago, elected officials have received little to no response from the public, said David McDowell, the finance director.
Vicki Dalton, Spokane County’s auditor, cautioned that not every line item tells the full story. Spokane County does not post accounts payable reports online. However, with regard to Kootenai County’s information, she said she hopes people will look through the expenditures, but also seek to understand why they are necessary.
Indeed, behind every expense is a story. Martin said spending $311 on a printer maintenance kit, essentially overhauling an existing printer, saves the county from spending thousands to replace it.
The $62.22 Garlic Jim’s pizza order was for a daylong meeting with a consultant on county health care benefits, said Sandy Maitland, the board’s administrative support manager. Attending the meeting were the commissioners, the human resources director and the finance director, said Maitland, who also was there.
When a meeting lasts all day, she said, “We’ve got to feed the people.”