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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Watchdog group: Atlanta fails when it comes to spending transparency

Atlanta was one of five U.S. cities to earn an "F" grade for its spending transparency practices.

The grade came in a report issued by the Georgia Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group, which looked at the ways cities offer "comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility" to their respective residents.

"Without this checkbook level [of transparency], we're kind of in the dark about which companies or even non-profits are receiving our taxpayer dollars," says Laura Murray, a PIRG advocate, to WABE.

You can see PIRG's full grades - which also include failing cities such as Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland - after the jump. We also chatted with Mayor Kasim Reed's office about the findings.

Sonji Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Mayor Reed, says that many of the cities with a high grade have invested "significant resources" toward making their systems transparent. That includes New York City, which has invested $2.4 toward its efforts. Atlanta has started to make strides on such programs, she says, thanks to the $3.4 million grant it received from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's philanthropic foundation that will help develop the city's forthcoming 311 system.

"It is worth mentioning that most of the cities that received a score of "A" also have their 311 systems already developed. Atlanta is behind, but we are launching our 311 system later this year," Jacobs tells CL. "The system will allow residents to track service requests online, as suggested in the report."

Jacobs also says that the city has worked with the "greater Atlanta tech/startup community" to tackle many of the online issues hampering its current system.

The city, in partnership with Invest Atlanta's Startup Atlanta initiative, will soon hold its first quarterly citywide hackathon, which will she thinks will become the "cornerstone for sparking innovation, accelerating development and encouraging greater civic collaboration."

"Under the Reed administration, the City of Atlanta has significantly enhanced access to information for residents," said Jacobs. "We will certainly review Georgia PIRG's recommendations on spending transparency and implement them, where possible."

PIRG's full grades and rankings are below:

Chicago: A 98
New York: A 98
San Francisco: A- 90

Baltimore: B+ 89
Cincinnati: B+ 87
Denver: B 85
San Antonio: B 83
Washington, D.C.: B 83

Orlando: C+ 79
Pittsburgh: C+ 79
Seattle: C+ 78
Miami: C+ 76
Houston: C+ 75
Kansas City: (MO) C 73
Philadelphia: C 72
San Diego: C- 69
Los Angeles: C- 68

Dallas: D+ 64
Phoenix: D 58
Las Vegas: D 56
Tampa: D 56
Minneapolis: D- 54
Riverside: D- 54
Boston: D- 53
Portland (OR): D- 50

Atlanta: F 46
Detroit: F 46
St. Louis: F 46
Sacramento: F 44
Cleveland: F 41

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