County spending data now online at SeetheSpending.org

September 13, 2011

Economic Development, Politics

Policy group puts data online for citizens; may sue Hinds County

JACKSON – Mississippians can now see the details of spending decisions made by 62 of the state’s 82 counties at SeeTheSpending.org in an easily searchable format.

“People are frustrated with the direction of government, and they feel helpless to do anything about it,” said Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the independent, non-profit think tank that created the site. “This site gives people a way to do something about it at the local level, where they can make the most difference.”

Thigpen

The new data is essentially the counties’ checkbook records for the past six years.

Before now, citizens would have to request volumes of records and sift through them manually to get the kind of information available with the click of a mouse on SeeTheSpending.org.

Users can search by the name of a payee, by county department, or by a category of spending. Employee salary information is not included.

Although the tendency of people will be to look for frivolous ways taxes are being spent, Thigpen said this site “is not intended to be simply a ‘gotcha’ site.” He said it provides a service to county supervisors, as they will be able to learn whether other counties provide core services at less cost. It also provides an opportunity for budget savings, as local merchants might offer lower bids for products or services than the county is currently paying.

Hinds County ignored records request

MPCC obtained the information for the site through a series of public records requests issued to county chancery clerks. Not all counties have complied with the Center’s requests, some citing technical difficulties.

Hinds County did not responded to MCPP requests sent to its chancery clerk and board of supervisors. Thigpen said the taxpayers of Hinds County should demand that their county officials release the data.

“Hinds County has so far said to their residents, ‘What we do with your money is none of your business.’ I wonder what they are trying to hide,” Thigpen said.

MCPP is prepared to sue Hinds County for its information if officials don’t respond this week.

Nineteen counties claim that they are unable to provide the information in the form requested by the Center. Thigpen says that in most cases, that seems to be an excuse for not complying, since the Center has offered to pay for the computer programming expenses necessary to provide the requested records. The Center has already paid those expenses for the counties that have complied.

Although an exact figure was not available, Thigpen said MCPP spent tens of thousands of dollars adding the data to SeeTheSpending.org, which was launched last year with state spending data. Future updates will include school district spending and state contracts.

MCPP is a private, non-profit organization that receives no funds from government agencies for its operations. It is based in Jackson and works to advance the ideals of free markets, limited government, and strong traditional families.

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