Commentary: Online financial data for city must be understandable

This editorial appeared in The State (Columbia, S.C.).

It's welcome news that the fiscally challenged city of Columbia has begun posting its monthly financial statements on its Web site.

A dose of transparency can only help a city that spent the past few years building budgets based on incomplete information because it didn't know how much it had spent or taken in the previous year; and the public was no more the wiser.

Needless to say, interest in how city officials are accounting for taxpayers' money has been heightened. The city's now well-publicized financial woes have drawn appropriate public scorn.

As much as it's good public service for the city to place the information online, the truth is that its poor financial stewardship compels it to open its books. The city's troubles have included not producing timely, accurate financial reports, paying some bills at least twice and overpaying workers.

Adding monthly financial statements to the recent annual audit reports that the city has posted on its Web site is in line with state Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom's push for local governments to voluntarily post financial information on a state spending Web site. Mr. Eckstrom's reasoning is sound: The governments spend billions in public dollars, and citizens should be able to review the financial activity they underwrite. State government already provides detailed information on the Web.

All governments ought to do this, and we commend Cayce and Irmo for already being on board. What harm is there in allowing the people to see the collective checkbook they fund to pay for services and run government operations?

To read the complete editorial, visit The State.