Beginning in the early 1990s, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson led an initiative to make Oakland County one of the most technologically-advanced places in the nation to live, work, play and do business. His early efforts included the creation of Automation Alley, the region’s successful high-tech business consortium; Access Oakland, the County’s online public records system; OakNet, the nearly 500-mile high-speed fiber optic network; and other initiatives to bring the County’s technology infrastructure up to task.
In 2001, with Executive sponsorship, Oakland County launched a newly-redesigned website whereby all County departments were organized under a single domain and standardized according to design, navigation and content. The Oakland County website was completely redesigned to serve as the platform for the expansion of its online services. This was accomplished initially with the introduction of a state-of-the-art hosting and security infrastructure, a content management system (which effectively decentralized site maintenance), and the development of micro-sites all across the County. The goal was to help facilitate the publishing of content to the web as easily and quickly as possible in order to ensure the most accurate and current information was available to citizens and customers.
As a result, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution #01109 stating that County departments would be consolidated under a single online brand, and standards established to ensure the quality and integrity of County websites. This effort was undertaken in order to create a user-friendly web portal, reduce the total cost of ownership and to provide a platform for future growth.
Since that time, the County has expanded its 22,000+-page, award-winning portal and infrastructure to include Web 2.0 technologies, including video and audio podcasts, photo galleries, email subscription, RSS news feeds, blogs, forums, and surveys. A mobile platform was also developed to serve website customers via cell phones and other portable devices. These new technologies help to enable two-way/interactive communication with the public and to provide greater access to government information by presenting it in multiple formats and platforms – resulting in a government that is more transparent, interactive and engaging.
In 2009, several County departments began using social media on external websites, such as Facebook®, Twitter®, YouTube®, Flickr®, and LinkedIn®. These social networking tools are used to engage citizens and customers even more in the process of government and to provide a platform for them to interact with one another about their government services. Oakland County also launched www.AdvantageOakland.com (business portal) and www.DestinationOakland.com (recreation and conservation portal).
Now available on the County’s website at www.oakgov.com, there are 43 online services, covering a range of common activities such as ordering certified copies of birth, death and marriage certificates; paying local property taxes; paying tickets issued by the 52nd District Court; searching and printing legal records; making court payments; applying for well and septic permits; purchasing park permits; purchasing maps and aerial photographs; and more.
Cost of Government Transparency
Without question, Oakland County has made a significant investment in technology over the past decade. This investment has been essential in order to, in part, do the following:
- Create a technologically-advanced workplace and workforce
- Establish Oakland County as a leader in technology in order to attract and retain residents, business, employees and others living, working, playing and doing business here
- Manage business operations in the most cost-effective and efficient way
- Improve business processes and create automated systems where possible
- Establish detailed on-demand reporting in order to make the best decisions about budgeting and operations as well as to make government transparent to citizens
Addressing specific costs associated with “making government transparent” is inherently impossible due to the fact that investments are made in order to achieve other business objectives (save cost, improve process, etc.) and that as a result of these projects, government becomes more transparent because it is enabled by technology. Once technology enables business, the data and information necessary to conduct that business becomes easily accessed and reported on.
Technology alone does not make government transparent, and raw data alone does not make it transparent. What makes it transparent is providing the information in formats that are simple and accessible to the public, and then making the public aware that it exists.
“If you don’t have current accurate data that is managed with robust and operational technological systems, you simply can’t be transparent,” says Phil Bertolini, Oakland County CIO/Deputy County Executive. “The investment in technology isn’t just about making government transparent; the investment is in running the business of government better and making it more accessible to people. The result is a more transparent government -- technology is the enabler.”
For example, Oakland County provides an email subscription service so that people can sign-up to receive emails when pages on the site are updated or new reports are added. The 3.2 million visits to our website in FY2009 alone demonstrates Oakland County’s commitment to promoting transparency through the use of its online information and services.
In addition to the Financial Transparency information detailed in the following section, a few of the many other examples include:
- During the Cobo Hall Renovation negotiations, the Oakland County Executive website posted all internal memos and reports that were available to Oakland County about the project on its website.
- On the Information Technology Project Management Office website, all IT projects for each fiscal year going back to 2000 are provided in detail, as well as proposed projects for the upcoming FY2014. It includes the process for selecting projects, the benefits of each project, costs and ROI, and more.
- Parks & Recreation 10-year Strategic Plan is available for download at www.DestinationOakland.com in the About Us section.
- Board of Commissioners Meeting Agendas and Minutes for full board and subcommittees located in the Minutes & Agendas section of the Board of Commissioners’ website. Also available is public commission information, such as the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Friend of the Court, which includes meeting notices, calendar, meeting minutes, and other information.
- Public meetings and reports available at the Water Resources Commissioner’s website, along with Consumer Confidence Reports (Water Quality), Rainfall and Lake Levels. In addition, the public can pay water and sewer bills online and view historical consumption reports.
- In the Cross-Boundary Services section, you will find information and reports on all regional services provided by the County to cities, villages and townships.
- Planning and Development provides reports on statistical information on all cities, villages and townships in Oakland County.
- The Purchasing division has its own website with links to all available Requests for Bids and Proposals, full downloads of all documentation related to policies and procedures used by Purchasing, detailed bidder registration process information, and downloadable forms necessary to become a vendor for Oakland County.
- The Treasurer’s Office provides lists of foreclosed properties and the ability to pay delinquent property taxes online.
- The Court Explorer application is available at the Clerk/Register of Deed’s website and allows you to search court records by name or case number to view the register of actions (docket entries), view parties and attorneys listed on a case and to purchase documents to be mailed or emailed back to you.
- www.AdvantageOakland.com, the County’s business website, provides the ability for you to create a custom detailed statistical report from a variety of topics, such as Economic Outlook Forecasts, Industries, Emerging Sectors, Transportation, Taxes, Development Activity, Demographics and Quality of Life Indicators, and much more.
Oakland County wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how various governmental units were handling financial transparency and reporting on their websites. Research was conducted and a report produced in March 2009 that showed the different types of budget and financial information provided on various government websites, along with the methods of accessing the data. This report is available upon request.
(As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), many units of government have established websites dedicated to tracking the dispersal of federal economic recovery funds received under the Act. This report does not include analysis of government financial transparency websites that are part of the Recovery.gov program. This report focuses on financial transparency websites that illuminate the regular, ongoing operating budgets and expenditures of various governmental units.)
As of March 2009, slightly more than half of all State governments maintain some form of web-based financial transparency reporting, while few local governments provide financial transparency documents on the web. Among governments that do maintain financial transparency on the web, there was no observable consistency or standard for format or functionality. Some governments provide only the most basic financial reporting, for example a single web page providing summary totals or high-level budget reporting. Others provide downloadable reports in various formats that are not searchable via the web. Depending on the format of the downloadable document, searching may be enabled via the software or reader, for example the ability to search within a PDF or Word document. A few governments provide robust Web-based search capabilities for the financial transparency documentation made available online.
In April 2009, Oakland County created and launched a “Transparency in Government” website section within the Oakland County Fiscal Services website, located at http://www.oakgov.com/mgtbud/fiscal/Pages/info_pub/monthlyreports.aspx. Oakland County publishes annual and monthly budget and expenditure information as downloadable PDF files.