Norwalk Reflector: Norwalk opens online checkbook, going back 15 years

Norwalk opens online checkbook, going back 15 years

Cary Ashby • Feb 11, 2017 at 6:00 PM

The city of Norwalk and Western Reserve Local Schools have opened their checkbooks online through the state treasurer’s office.

The two entities join several others from Huron County on the Open Checkbook website: Willard city, Monroeville Local Schools, Norwalk City Schools and the village of North Fairfield.

“Edison (Local Schools) is committed, but is not live yet,” said Jeff Heinrich, a public affairs representative for state treasurer Josh Mandel’s office.

Norwalk Safety-Service Director Dan Wendt said having 15 years of detailed finances online is a great example of government transparency.

“This shows the public what the real cost is of doing business,” he added.

Also interested or starting the process from the Reflector area are: South Central Local Schools plus New Haven, New London and Sherman townships.

“New London and New Haven are in the review period,” Heinrich said, referring to part of the process of going online.

Erie County and Vermilion Township joined Open Checkbook on Tuesday — the same day Western and the city of Norwalk went live.

“Erie County was one of the first counties to verbally commit, but they had priorities to take care of first,” Heinrich said. “They are the 26th county to go live.”

The treasurer’s spokesman explained how the Open Checkbook website operates and what information the city of Norwalk has available with the Reflector and city administrators before Tuesday’s council meeting. By the end of the week, the city is expected to have a permanent link on the finance page of the Norwalk website.

Heinrich was impressed that Norwalk decided to go back 15 years with its financial information, given that many schools, municipalities and court systems might start one to five years back.

“That’s very impressive,” he said.

Western goes back five years.

On the main Open Checkbook page, the state has graphs on the year’s spending, highest-paid companies, largest expense types and year-to-year state spending.

A Google-style search engine allows users to find a specific municipality or school system.

Online users can find a specific check, which indicates who was paid and where the money comes from. For questions, there is an email address attached to the specific check.

Viewers may choose to look at the financial information via bar graphs, pie charts, tree maps or stack charts. Heinrich said as the person moves the mouse over the graph, the related information comes up automatically.

The Norwalk treasurer’s office started accumulating the information for the state in the summer.

“Our assistant finance director, Michelle Reeder, did the work of uploading it,” Wendt said.

Heinrich said it would be great if every municipality and school system in the state participated in the Open Checkbook, but noted it’s not mandatory. 

Several years ago, the Boston-based Public Interest Research Group ranked Ohio 46th out of 50 states in being transparent. Heinrich said the state then revealed its salaries online in 2011 and the properties the next year before the Open Checkbook concept launched in December 2014.

For the past two years, Ohio has ranked No. 1 in transparency.

“The idea is we have to be more transparent in this state,” Heinrich said.

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