State Mandates for County Fiscal Transparency are Outdated

In order to be effective citizens who insist upon and receive good government, voters must have information. How much do Arkansans know about the financial health of their county governments? Arkansas law (ACA § 14-21-102(b)) requires that county governments make their financial status public only once per year, and only in the print newspaper with the largest circulation in the county.

Newspaper readership has been rapidly declining since 1991, while the number of those who receive the news from either online or any digital source has been increasing since 2004 and 2010, respectively. Recent research by the Gallup Company reveals that different age groups rely on different types of media for information; notably, no more than 18 percent in any age group relies on newspapers as their main source of information.

So, how much of the voting public could potentially be reached if following the law? We estimate 11 percent at maximum!  That is a shockingly small portion of the voting public potentially receiving information, and for so brief a time.

What if each county had a website where this information could be available to anyone 24/7? Such information could reach 30 percent of the public (and all of the interested public), resulting in a wider impact. Some Arkansas counties already do this. All of them easily could by using webpages already created by the state. Many of these webpages currently contain little more than the county government’s street address. The ripple effect of information is worth the effort. More information leads to a more efficiently run government. It would be easier for county citizens to keep public officials “honest,” limit the damage from well-intended policy mistakes that create more public cost than public benefit, and to assure themselves that tax money is being spent for their advantage, in the ways they see fit. The computers, the websites, and the county data already exist. All that’s missing is the public will to make it transparent.

If you have questions or comments, or if you would like more information about this study or about ACRE and its endeavors, please contact ACRE’s director David Mitchell (

DISCLAIMER The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Central Arkansas nor are they endorsed by the University of Central Arkansas.