Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Carlos-O-Meter

Make most county records available online


"One of my goals is to move Miami-Dade County government toward a paperless system of record keeping, aided by computer technology, which would make most records available online."

Updates

Gimenez adds his memos to county website

Mayor Carlos Gimenez made two promises that related to expanding access to county government records online.

We gave Gimenez a Promise Kept for posting the mayor's calendar on the internet. Separately, we are tracking his promise to "make most records available online." We previously rated this promise In the Works after Gimenez unveiled a transparency website in 2011 that has a county checkbook and other financial documents.

We decided to check on Gimenez' progress at the beginning of 2014 -- about two and a half years after he was first elected mayor. (He was initially elected in June 2011 after a recall and re-elected in August 2012.)

In December, the county added Gimenez's memos online. Some of the memos, posted multiple times each month, are about routine matters, for example about the annual holiday toy drive or salary schedules for lifeguards. But the website also contains memos about hot topics, like the library budget during the budget battle this past summer and memos showing monthly crime statistics.

In January 2012, Commissioner Bruno Barreiro proposed that Gimenez expand county records.  Several months later the county announced a website expansion plan and the county finished the first phase, which included posting employees' salaries.

The second phase, which will cost about $500,000 to implement, includes adopting a new content management system, transferring 50 million older electronic records into the new system and posting public records requests and documents that require Gimenez's signature. The county has the software for the second phase, but it will be implemented as individual county departments find the money to implement and manage it for their departments.

We've noted in the past that Miami-Dade has yet to follow neighboring Broward County's lead on posting certain key documents online such as county commissioners' financial disclosures. But unlike Broward, where the nine county commissioners elect one of their own as mayor each year, Miami-Dade has a countywide elected mayor. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners is one of a dozen departments not under Gimenez' purview, so that means that commissioners would have to decide to post documents about themselves online.


The county has a plan to expand online access and has taken some important steps to get there -- most recently by adding Gimenez's memos in one easy to find spot online. But the county still has more work to do, so we leave this promise rated at In the Works.

Sources:

Miami-Dade County, Public records website expansion plan, Aug. 21, 2012

Interview, Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade County spokeswoman, Dec. 23, 2013

Employee salaries will remain online

Miami-Dade County added an online database of employees" salaries in August 2012 as part of Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2011 campaign promise to make "most records available online.”

The salary database allows viewers to look up the paychecks of individual employees, departments or, for example, everyone who earns more than a particular amount.

The database didn't sit well with County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who proposed that the county take it down. (Since it is public information, it would remain available upon request.)

The Miami Herald reported Dec. 1 that Jordan was concerned some viewers could use the salary information to target employees. However, the database doesn't include addresses or Social Security numbers.

From the Herald's report:

"Salary information is also ‘misleading,' Jordan said, because it doesn't include an employee's qualifications or years of service. Some employees have found out their colleagues' salaries online and realized they do not get paid the same for a comparable job title — because one employee may have different duties or experience, Jordan said.”

But on Dec. 4, county commissioners rejected Jordan's proposal which means that the employees' salaries will remain online.

Gimenez and Miami-Dade officials have taken several additional steps toward the goal of adding more documents online.

We gave Gimenez an In The Works early in his first term because he quickly posted a transparency website that had several financial documents including an an online checkbook showing disbursements.  (In a separate promise, Gimenez also earned a Promise Kept for posting his calendar online.)

The checkbook shows amounts disbursed to various individuals and companies but doesn't provide an explanation of the expenditures. In January 2013, the county plans to add invoices.

In January 2012, Commissioner Bruno Barreiro proposed that Gimenez expand county records. Gimenez unveiled a plan in August 2012 that included several goals for expanding public records, such as automatically posting "hot topics” records requests; researching how to post e-mails (no small feat since the county gets about 300,000 a day); and forming a committee that will convene quarterly to review and recommend potential additions to the website.

But the county has yet to identify how it will pay for the expansion, which will cost about a half-million to implement -- plus ongoing costs.

Miami-Dade doesn't appear to be following Broward's lead in posting two types of public information often sought by reporters: financial disclosures and a county commission visitors' log which reveals, among other things, the names of lobbyists schmoozing commissioners on  behalf of specific clients.

In Miami-Dade, a list of who has filed financial disclosures is available online, and then the documents can be obtained by request. Visitor logs are kept by individual offices, departments and agencies and are available upon request, Gimenez's spokeswoman Suzy Trutie told PolitiFact Florida. (Gimenez did post his own calendar online, but that doesn't include commissioners' calendars.)

Measuring Gimenez's progress on this promise is tricky because he said that he wanted to place "most” records online and that is difficult to quantify. Gimenez has taken important steps toward transparency by placing more records online and organizing them together. We are going to watch to see if he adds more, so for now we keep this promise at In The Works.

Sources:

Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade Commissioners wants to remove online posting of county employees" salaries,”Dec. 1, 2012

Miami Herald,"Miami-Dade Commission reinstitutes prayer before meetings, ACLU threatens to sue,”Dec. 4, 2012

Miami-Dade County, Agenda item 11 (A) (5) proposed by County Commissioner Barbara Jordan about posting employees" salaries online, Dec. 4, 2012

Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade County salaries, Accessed Dec. 3, 2012

Miami-Dade County,Transparency website, Accessed Dec. 3,  2012

Miami-Dade County, Agenda item 11 (A) (1) Proposed resolution about online records, Jan. 24, 2012

Miami-Dade County, Financial disclosures, 2000-2011

PolitiFact"s Carlos-O-Meter, "Post mayor"s calendar on the internet,”Dec. 9,  2011

Broward County, Disclosure documents, Accessed Dec. 3, 2012

Broward County, Commission Visitors Log, Accessed Dec. 3,  2012

Interview, Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade County spokeswoman, Dec. 3, 2012

Interview, Margaret Stapleton, Broward County spokeswoman, Dec. 4, 2012

Gimenez unveils transparency website

Long gone are the days when the only way for the public to see Miami-Dade County's budget or an upcoming agenda was to get a hard copy from County Hall -- those documents have been online for years.

But there are still plenty of public documents that aren't readily accessible online.

During his 2011 campaign for county mayor, Carlos Gimenez promised to make "most records available online" -- one of 18 promises PolitiFact Florida is tracking on our Carlos-O-Meter.

"Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law authorizes public access to all municipal records," Gimenez said on his campaign website. "It's a great law, but not always user friendly. Records are sometimes buried in files or boxes, or otherwise inaccessible thanks to less-than-cooperative record keepers. One of my goals is to move Miami-Dade County government toward a paperless system of record keeping, aided by computer technology, which would make most records available online."

About one month after he won election, Gimenez unveiled a transparency website to the public on Aug. 1, 2011. The website has county budgets, financial reports and bondholder reports -- information that was already available on the county's website. But it also has a new component: an online checkbook showing disbursements. We tested out the checkbook, which shows amounts disbursed to various individuals and companies but doesn't provide an explanation of the expenditures. We can guess what some expenditures were for -- such as payments to Florida Power and Light or Bellsouth Communications -- but we have no idea from simply looking at the online checkbook what the expenditures for "HMF FL A LLC" or the "Cigarette Racing Team" were for. (The website does contain some warnings including that the data is unaudited and that the search is not a substitute for a public records request and provides a link to contact the county.)

The county plans to add more details to the checkbook -- including brief descriptions of expenditures -- but doesn't have a target date set, county spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said in an e-mail interview. Gimenez also plans to add salary information for all employees -- but no launch date has been set.

Gimenez doesn't get all the credit for the online checkbook. In 2010, Commissioner Bruno Barreiro was the prime sponsor of a resolution directing the county to post the register. Gimenez, county commission chairman at the time, was one of multiple co-sponsors and spoke in favor of it.

Commission background information about the resolution states that Gimenez "noted employee salaries were public records with no privacy rights attached and were accessible to the public. He agreed that Commissioner Barreiro's proposal was a huge step towards better transparency. He also noted that posting the invoice, requisition or paycheck stub should suffice as an explanation for the expenditure."

We asked Trutie how Gimenez decided what to put on the website. She said in addition to the 2010 county resolution, county officials looked at a state bill that created the Transparency Florida website for appropriations as well as other government websites. 

"At this time, we are only posting what is required by the resolution," Trutie said in an e-mail. "However, this project is a work in progress and subject to changes."

There are lots of other types of public records that Gimenez could add to increase government transparency. For example, in neighboring Broward County the county commission has a website that includes a disclosure database containing commissioners' financial disclosures -- which they are required by state law to submit annually -- and forms listing outside employment among other documents. Broward also has an online visitors' log that shows who visited individual county commissioners. Trutie said Dade has no plans to add financial disclosures or a visitors' log.

Gimenez also made a related promise to post his calendar on the Internet -- Trutie said there is no launch date for that but the county is in the process of developing it. Gimenez promised to post "most records available online" -- ultimately that could be difficult to measure because "most" isn't an exact term and before he took office the county already posted several documents. But Gimenez's transparency website, launched one month after he won election, is a start toward his promise of putting most county records online. We rate this promise In the Works. 

Sources:

PolitiFact, Carlos-O-Meter, Accessed Aug. 12, 2011

Carlos Gimenez campaign website, "Transparency: An essential part of government," April 24, 2011
 

Miami-Dade County, Resolution requiring that the county start an online check register, Sept. 21, 2010

Broward County, Disclosure documents, Accessed Aug. 12, 2011

Broward County, Commission Visitors Log, Accessed Aug. 12, 2011

State of Florida, Transparency Florida website, Accessed Aug. 12, 2011

Florida Senate, S 1796 Governmental Oversight and Accountability, 2009
 

Interview, Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade County spokeswoman, Aug. 11-15, 2011

Interview, Margaret Stapleton, Broward County spokeswoman, Aug 11-15, 2011