in Houston, Texas
Handful of state’s 1,700 special districts make comptroller’s ‘Leadership Circle’ for financial transparency
Monday, Nov 14, 2011, 10:19AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

The more than 1,700 special districts and 254 counties in Texas fail miserably to keep the people who pay the freight apprised of what they do to earn their taxing authority.

In a fine bit of aggregation, Texas Budget Source found that only 24 special districts have even provided any information to the transparency monitors with the state Comptroller while counties get a cumulative 'F' for their efforts to provide information to the public.

In an effort to spur districts to provide their financial workings to citizens, the Comptroller makes awards through something called its Leadership Circle. To say these awards are coveted by the districts would be to exaggerate just a bit.

Of the 24 districts that bothered to throw their hats in the circle, so to speak, the Comptroller saw fit to issue six gold awards and one silver award for making their financial reports or budgets available online. Consider, too, the exponential growth of these districts, and how they operate with limited oversight but plenty of power to tax.

The Leadership site makes no editorial comment on the choice of the more than 1,675 special districts that have chosen to continue wearing their hats.

Counties fare little better in a report card recently updated by Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit that tracks transparency in state and local government. Sunshine Review was unable to track anything in 27 Texas counties because they have no websites for the posting of public information. The state got a B-.

Editor's note: Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Seibert is on Sunshine Review's board of directors.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of trophies by flickr user terren in Virginia, used via a Creative Commons license.
Friday, 11/18/2011 - 02:56PM

You should also note in your column that the criteria this year was more stringent than last year's criteria. Different financial software sometimes makes it hard to produce the specific reports the Comptroller's office requires. Not excuses, just facts.

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