Minneapolis gets D- grade for spending transparency

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January 24, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Minneapolis ranked 22nd of the 30 cities studied

A study of how cities make their budgets and expenses available online to residents says Minneapolis is one of the least transparent large cities in the country. 

The study, done by U.S. Public Interest Research Group, ranks the largest cities in the country’s 30 largest metro areas using 12 criteria Minneapolis is not one of the 30 largest cities in the U.S., but because it’s the biggest city in the Twin Cities, it is included in the study.

Minneapolis got a D- grade and a score of 54 out of 100. Minneapolis ranked 22nd of the 30 cities studied. Chicago and New York got A grades, while Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento and Cleveland received F grades.

The study did find a trend: Cities with larger populations tended to have better transparency. 

U.S. PIRG was looking for checkbook-level spending databases, which Minneapolis lacks. For instance, in New York, residents can log onto “Checkbook NYC 2.0” and see active contracts with private businesses, view payrolls for city departments and see which departments are logging overtime, among other things.

In Minneapolis, residents can see annual budgets in PDF form, but cannot do searches on individual expenditures.

Of the 30 largest cities, 17 provide checkbook-level databases online, allowing residents to search expenditures.

The study quotes Minneapolis spokesman Matt Lindstrom in its description of the city. 

“A Minneap­olis official worried that only a small group of the city’s citizens would directly utilize and benefit from launching a checkbook-level trans­parency website, and that ‘given the costs, it would not be in the best interest of our taxpayers to dramati­cally increase our level of transpar­ency.’”

Lindstrom, in his full response to a PIRG questionnaire, noted that the city launched a website to track checkbook-level spending of local stimulus funds in 2009 – the spending from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Lindstrom said the page generated 6,000 views over three years.

The study praised Minneapolis for its 311 service, which allows residents to request services and then track the response to those requests. The city launched a 311 application for smart phones in 2012.

The study also gave Minneapolis good marks for its Results Minneapolis service, which measures each city department’s performance in meeting certain goals. Former City Coordinator Steven Bosacker created the service. 

“Minneapolis posts reports on depart­ments’ progress and achievement of performance goals," the study states. "Since Minneapo­lis began posting the performance reports in 2009, decision-makers and citizens have been able to use the re­ports to identify which programs are excelling and which need improve­ment as well as to increase depart­ments’ effectiveness and efficiency."