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New website unveiled, attacked

Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013

* I haven’t had a chance to play with this new site yet, but it looks interesting

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka announced the launching of The Warehouse, a comprehensive online database that puts local governments’ financial information and tens of thousands of records at a single location for taxpayer review.

Topinka explained that the Comptroller’s Office collects financial reports from 5,200 counties, municipalities and special taxing districts across the state. The Warehouse makes those records and other pertinent local financial information collected by her office immediately available to residents. […]

“This user-friendly database allows taxpayers to scour our office ‘Warehouse’ from wherever they are located,” Topinka said in a news release. “There is no reason that residents should have to file Freedom of Information requests or sort through mountains of paper to see how their money is being spent. That information should be at their fingertips, and that’s what The Warehouse accomplishes.”

Warehouse visitors are able to search records by report type, unit of government or community name. Once a local government is selected, users will be taken to a landing page where they can view a snapshot of local finances, Annual Financial Reports and Audits. The site also offers a “compare data” feature allowing visitors to see how one government stacks up against another.

* Background

The comptroller’s office collects more than 9,200 reports from 5,200 local governments each year. Now, much of that information is available online. Dubbed The Warehouse, the site allows users to find financial reports and audits from counties; cities; special taxing districts, such as park districts; and other bodies of local governments. “We’re essentially allowing taxpayers to scour The Warehouse from wherever they are to seek whatever they want to learn,” Topinka said at a Chicago news conference. “It’s designed to be user friendly. In fact, we’re going to keep trying and trying and trying to make sure anything we put out [will] be as user friendly as possible.” She said the new site was made possible by a 2012 law that requires local governments to submit their information to her office electronically.

* The site could actually help local governments

Sherman Mayor Trevor Clatfelter attended Tuesday’s news conference and said his town of fewer than 5,000 people has a limited staff available to deal with Freedom of Information Act requests that often seek the same information that will now be posted online by the state.

* Sheila Simon wasn’t impressed

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who is challenging Topinka for the comptroller’s office, has tried to lay recent cases of high-profile local corruption at Topinka’s feet because the comptroller’s office takes in local fiscal information. Simon said in a written statement today that the website would do little to prevent local problems. “It is the job of the comptroller’s office to be the fiscal watchdog over local governments. We’ve had far too many examples of corruption at the local level — along with missed opportunities to spot that corruption under Judy Baar Topinka,” said Simon. “Repurposing a Web address with the same information that could already be found on the comptroller website is too little and too late. Identifying and preventing local corruption will be a priority from my first day in office. It’s time we have a comptroller who provides not just accounting but accountability.”

* Topinka’s response

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka Tuesday said a new local government financial data feature on her website should not be considered a campaign event.

Topinka, who scheduled seven news conferences around the state over a three-day period to roll out the site, said it has been years in the making and is not a product of her re-election bid. […]

“That’s just not true,” Topinka responded. “There’s information here that you will not get anyplace else. I think it’s nonsense because we started working on this when Sheila Simon was still dreaming of becoming attorney general.”

Anyway, go check it out and tell us what you think.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


22 Comments
  1. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:16 am:

    The ‘dreaming of of becoming attorney general’ line was nice…


  2. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:22 am:

    Sheila Simon is probably the only person who thinks that saying MORE visablility and transparency is NOT something good.

    So, according to Sheila Simon, there needs to be LESS transpancy, more “Attorney General” in the Fiscal Office, and still thinks less than 30 Munis with a 2 year backlog out of over 5,000 total bodies is “not doing enough” …

    Put away the “Attorney General - Corruption Fighter” talking points, you are not running for AG, remember?

    Learn the Office of the Comproller first and understand that transpanency is always good, and what “Teeth” have been put into place to help the Ofiice. Otherwise, check with Lisa again to see if she has cahnged her mind, because that statement sounds more like someone confused about what the AG does, than someone weho has no clue to how the Comptroller’s Office actually operates.


  3. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:24 am:

    Topinka has indeed been working to make her office and its information more available and transparent since day one. This is just another step toward that goal.

    She does the GOP, and the state, proud.


  4. - foster brooks - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    So we can put openthebooks.com out of business?


  5. - Whatever - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    OneMan — agreed! Nice touch, Judy.


  6. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    === “It is the job of the comptroller’s office to be the fiscal watchdog over local governments.” ===

    Sheila… please clarify where in the Illinois constitution or state statute this is detailed as being the job description of the Comptroller.


  7. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:39 am:

    =…should not be considered a campaign event.=

    I agree that a reasonable amount of time spent announcing the roll-out of a new tool, service, etc. is not–and should not, be considered a “campaign event.” As a matter of fact, if the service or product being rolled out is good (i.e., it doesn’t have any major defects and actually addresses a need and/or otherwise adds benefit), not spending some time to announce it seems silly.

    I can think of quite a few brow-raising things that elected officials do while campaigning for their current or new office, and this just isn’t one of them.

    As a matter of fact, like her or not, JBT seems pretty darn ethical when it comes to this kind of stuff.


  8. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:43 am:

    I just briefly checked out the site… it works very well and has some neat functions. I especially like that it provides contact info for the public bodies as many public bodies (including some municipalities and counties) have no public contact info (e.g. no website).


  9. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:48 am:

    I briefly looked at it, and found the information helpful, too.


  10. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:49 am:

    SIMON TOUTS PLAN TO COMBINE OFFICES - HAS NO CLUE WHAT EITHER DOES

    Carbondale - Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today announced the combining of the Comptroller Office with another Constitutional Office, but it’s not what you may think.

    “I am announcing today the combining of the Office of the Comptroller, with the Office of the Attorney General.

    While most thought I would call for the combining of the Comptroller and Treasurer, I really feel that I have a better shot at confusing everyone by trying to meld those two offices (Comptroler and Attorney General), than actually looking at boring fiscal roles of the Comptroller and the Treasurer. Plus, I like playing attorney, money and fiscal stuff is just ‘not my thing’ and I ran out of offices to try to use my AG info I had to learn, so there is that too.”

    When pressed about Lisa Madigan’s thoughts about the two offices combining, Ms. Simon said, “Lisa and I talk all the time. I mean ‘all the time’, so I feel I can speak for Lisa, and I look forward to her going back to the private secor as I lead this new office.”

    The Comptroller of the state of Illinois, is the office that handles fiscal matters, including the payment of bills. The Office of the Attorney General does none of those fiscal functions.

    ###


  11. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:50 am:

    Imagine the theme for Qunicy begining….

    Video: Sheila Simon in a green eye shade opening a dusty filing cabinet.

    Switch

    Video of Sheila at a desk with the same eye shade with young eager new employees looking on

    VO (Sheila Simon): Folks, today we are going to take a look at the most fascinating sphere of government work. The work of Forensic Accounting

    VO (Young state worker): But doesn’t SECTION 17. article V of the state consitution state: COMPTROLLER - DUTIES
    The Comptroller, in accordance with law, shall maintain the State’s central fiscal accounts, and order payments into and out of the funds held by the Treasurer.

    It doesn’t say anything about doing audits, isn’t that Bill Holland’s job?

    VO: Sheila… Quiet you, this is sort of like being Attorney General

    Video: First new worker collapses in laughter, the others soon follow…


  12. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Sheila — Comptroller

    EP 1: Report Attack…

    Early evening, Sheila and several others in tactical SWAT style gear….

    Video: Inside a small meeting room at a rural fire protection district in central Illinois…

    Male 1: Well we got a letter that we are late with some report.

    Woman 1: Marge use to deal with that, but since her husband got

    (loud bang and flash)

    Door swings open Sheila appears with handcuffs, runs up to man 1 and pushes his face into table and handcuffs him…

    Man 1: What the hell

    Sheila: You are two months late with the annual report and you were off .85 on the one from last year, the taxpayers of Illinois good a true elected me to protect them from vermin like you guys..


  13. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 12:12 pm:

    Hmmm, doing your job = campaign event. Whodathunk?


  14. - Fan of Cap Fax - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 12:13 pm:

    Liked the site, found it very informative and easy to use. Love Judy and Judy loves dogs, which makes me love her more!


  15. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 12:23 pm:

    @FakeJasonPlummer - Hey @FakeSheilaSimon, I can loan you my “What The Comptroller Does” coloring book, so you know the job. ‘Grogran’ has my Treasurer one. Dad got me the whole set! #AlwaysHelping


  16. - A guy... - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    Hey Sheila, if it were a campaign event, why wouldn’t she wait until Jan/Feb of ‘14 when someone might even pay attention to the fact that you’ve defaulted down to running for this office? You’ve done the impossible Sheila, you’ve made it even easier for Judy to run against you. Bet that LG gig is looking better by the day. Stop. Talking. Now.


  17. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 12:50 pm:

    ==It is the job of the comptroller’s office to be the fiscal watchdog over local governments.==

    She has yet to say exactly how she plans to accomplish that. I think the Comptroller’s Office has other things to do rather than become auditors of all of the local governments.

    She picks the weirdest things to attack. A transparency website is an odd thing to latch onto as something that is bad.

    I might be wrong but she is going to be beat by a huge margin (IMHO). I think she is dooming herself to the trash heap of politics with this run.


  18. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 1:02 pm:

    @FakeSheilaSimon - Thanks @FakeJasonPlummer, I will trade you all my AG notes I keep using #IgnoranceIsJustIgnorance

    @FakeSheilaSimon - I want to be clear, I am for sunshine, but I am against transparency #YouFigureItOut

    @FakeSheilaSimon - My Bad. I was Quinn’s LG, so I just figure every announcement is a political one #GoverningSeemsHarderNow

    @FakeSheilaSimon - My forst bill I would like to see is for the building of more jails. Oh wait, these are my AG notes again #ItWorksWithTweaking

    @FakeSheilaSimon - I guess the site seems to be fine, but it just seems to have all these numbers. #IfIWantedToKnowMathIWouldntHaveGoneToLawSchool

    @FakeSheilaSimon - Hey @FakePatQuinn, just wanted to remind you, I have experience as a LG #MyBAdPleaseForgiveMe


  19. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 1:20 pm:

    –I think the Comptroller’s Office has other things to do rather than become auditors of all of the local governments–

    Patrolling cemeteries for graverobbers, if I recall the recent past correctly.


  20. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 1:51 pm:

    Kudos to Topinka for leading the way on this.

    Meanwhile, Simon displays desperation and a lack of her own ideas.


  21. - OneMan - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 1:51 pm:

    wordslinger…

    Thanks, you just wrote episode 2 of Sheila…

    It has her popping out of a coffin to bust a shady pre-need funeral provider…


  22. - Anyone Remember? - Wednesday, Oct 30, 13 @ 2:22 pm:

    Excellent data. Sooner would have been nicer, but given what Topinka had to work with when she took office, there can’t be any valid criticisms of how long this took.

    Suggestion for future expansions - state college and university expenditures that do not go through the Comptroller’s Office.


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