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Time for Greater Transparency in Arkansas Counties: Let the Sun Shine In

By Mavuto Kalulu

Transparency is one of the most powerful weapons against government corruption, but counties don’t make it easy for Arkansans to access their public financial information. Only 8 out of Arkansas’s 75 counties have their 2017 budget online.

Corruption is a significant problem in Arkansas. Legislative audits detected nearly $40 million in public resource abuse between 2010 and 2017. In one of the largest cases, a Benton County senior accounting specialist stole over $1 million.

How many more cases of abuse could Arkansans detect if every county published their budget online?

As part of the research for ACRE’s new policy brief, Let the Sun Shine In: Improving Access to Arkansas Counties’ Financial Information, we wanted to find out what an average Arkansan would experience when attempting to collect county financial information. So we requested budget information from all 75 counties for the years 2012–2017.

  • Eight counties did not send us their information at all, despite multiple requests.
  • Most counties sent their information to us in 12 days or less, but six counties gave it to us only after 100 days or more.
  • Most counties did not charge us anything, but five counties charged us over $100.


Newspaper and Internet Publication of County Financial Information


Under Arkansas law, county clerks have to publish their county’s annual financial report in a newspaper each year. But for an Arkansan to get information through this method, they have to to find out what paper the information was published in, find out what date it was published, and then buy the paper or access it through a library.

This policy brief suggests a straightforward solution: publish budget information online as well.

Even though few counties currently publish their budget information online, 40 counties already have their own websites, and the other 35 could use the Arkansas.gov platform, which they could use to release their information. The Association of Arkansas Counties could also be utilized as an option to publish information. In fact, online disclosure could even save counties money in the long run by reducing the number of requests that have to be fulfilled by employees.

To learn more about the current state of government transparency in Arkansas, and about the public costs and benefits that would result if more counties started publishing their financial information on the internet, download the policy brief here.

The more information Arkansans have, the more empowered they are to hold their elected officials accountable.

 

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