Collaboration in Civic Spheres

School Committee Newcomer Demands Financial Transparency

by April 23rd, 2010

One of the School Committee’s newest members is attempting to streamline the district’s method of providing financial reports, saying the data should be made more accessible to the public in order to increase transparency in local government.

Bill O’Keefe, a Bank of America employee who was elected to the School Committee in November, said he was shocked when the committee was asked to approve a list of expenditures that included nothing but a total dollar amount at a meeting on April 5.

“We were asked to vote on it … without seeing any checks and balances,” he said. “For an open government that’s ludicrous.”

To obtain a detailed expense report, O’Keefe was told to make an appointment with the superintendent’s office during business hours, which veteran committee members said was standard procedure, he said.

“I’m going to have to take a day off in order to go and get this information? Are you kidding me?” he said recalling the event on Thursday.

As it turns out, a hard copy of the data was provided at the committee’s next meeting, and O’Keefe said school officials have been open to suggestions on how to streamline the process. Ideally, he’d like to see the data posted online or available in hard copy for the committee and the public to see.

“We have to vet this whole thing,” he said of the committee’s current practices for distributing public information.

In the meantime, he will continue to request financial reports and other documents. His recent request for a copy of Superintendent Roy E. Belson’s contract extension brought a clerical error to light that had slipped past numerous other departments, he said.

“It’s not that I’m looking for things to be wrong, I’m just looking to put a second set of eyes on it,” he said.

So far, O’Keefe said his efforts have been met positively by school officials and residents alike. His phone has been ringing constantly since his initial inquiry into the transparency of district expense reports earlier this month.

“I’ve gotten constant calls,” he said. “They’re happy that someone’s doing it.”

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