West Virginia is Now One of the Most Transparent States in the U.S. -- Here’s Why

October 20, 2022 – OpenGov

There’s a lot to celebrate in West Virginia as the 40th County joined Project Mountaineer, and according to John B. “JB” McCuskey, West Virginia’s 21st State Auditor, this is just the start of a “transparency revolution.” 

Initiated by the State Auditor’s Office, Project Mountaineer provides 40 counties, 50 cities, and 55 school boards with financial reporting software that allows them to update and showcase data transparently at no cost to the municipality/county. This allows for the entirety of state expenditures and financial data to be found online, bringing a whole new level of accountability to those in office for how they spend taxpayer dollars. 

“The people of West Virginia have more access to their government information and data than any people or any other person in this entire country. We are super proud of that,” Auditor McCuskey said. 

Auditor McCuskey joined OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman and 9 other county commissioners, mayors, and treasurers participating in Project Mountaineer to break down what transparency means today. 

Here are the top 5 takeaways from their discussion:

1. Put Your (Constituent’s) Money Where Your Mouth Is

To Auditor McCuskey, the primary motivator of this 6+ year project was to hold elected officials accountable.

“We have a crisis in America of people not trusting their government… when you look at your constituents, and you say ‘I am not hiding a single thing. This is exactly what I’m doing with your money. This is who’s being paid, this is what’s being paid, this is when it’s being paid, and this is why it’s being paid,’ you start to build that bridge back,” said Auditor McCuskey.

Thanks to Auditor McCuskey’s work, every dollar spent by the state, and exactly when and where this dollar is spent, is now available to citizens in participating communities at the school, city, county, and state levels. 

When an elected official makes a promise, whether to improve roads or minimize the drug crises, all financial information related to each project is available in real-time through the checkbook.  

“I think if we’re trying to make America and West Virginia as great as we know that they can be, having citizens trust their government and the people who are in their government is an enormous first step,” said Auditor McCuskey.

RELATED: How to Bring Transparency and Citizen Engagement to Your Processes

Pictured: Morgantown, the county seat of Monongalia County, WV. Monongalia County was a pilot for project Mountaineer and has over the years shared its experience on a local and state level.

2. Invest in Technology of the Times

There are already enough struggles in government work: politics, bureaucracy, and institutional incentives, to name just a few. There’s no room to add petty tech bugs, slow systems, or viruses to that list. 

This is why WV adequately researched and vetted before selecting a software partner for Project Mountaineer. They knew typical government accounting software, like 30-year-old green screens and incumbent ERP systems, wouldn’t cut it. They needed technology that increases internal efficiencies and appeals to the younger, more tech-driven generation of future government workers. 

Their research led them to OpenGov, a solution that is both modern and cloud-based while being specific to local government. 

OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman said this reasoning is precisely why he started OpenGov in the first place.

“You’ve got hardworking, smart people… banging their head against the wall against old technology. And they say they need solutions… We saw a big technology problem. And that’s what we’re unlocking.”

3. Making the Data Digestible

It’s one thing to grant widespread access to financial information, but the next step is making it accessible to the average citizen who is not a member of the government, a mathematician, or an IT professional. 

For these WV communities, it is no longer acceptable to just dump data without supporting context and visuals. This is why the State selected software that automates the dirty work and turns federal funds and tax cuts into a meaningful narrative.  

“With OpenGov, you can actually tell your story. You can explain where the money is going…Each of these 40 governments can create an entire site, explain to their residents and citizens where their money is going, and tell their stories… down to the local town and city level,” said Bookman.

RELATED: Winchester, VA Tackles Transparency Challenges
With OpenGov’s “all-in-one” Solution

Cabell County, the fourth-largest county in West Virginia, was one of the first counties in the state to become an OpenGov customer as part of Project Mountaineer.

4. Taking the Arguments Off the Table

Monongalia County Commissioners Tom Bloom and Sean Sikora still put up a fight, but not when it comes to the facts. 

With OpenGov, it is easier to spot errors and enable predictability, said Auditor McCuskey, arming the Commissioners with the truth they need to make confident and sustainable decisions. 

The two also ensure the public is frequently informed via email when new financial information is available online. This way, they eliminate the time spent arguing with those who tell them they are not being transparent.  Thus freeing up time to focus on critical issues. 

“We are arguing the policies, but let’s not argue the facts. We put the information out there, we can clear half the argument off the table, and then we can have decent arguments about policies,” Sikora said.

Sikora and Bloom, as well as Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, have received the Project Mountaineer Achievement Award for their action regarding transparency within their city and county. 

“It’s wonderful to be able to come up with an idea, and with what we have here, we’re able to do something and move forward. I think the key thing in Monongalia County is not to say to us it can’t be done because we’re gonna work our ass off and get it done,” Bloom said.

5. Teamwork Makes the Regime Work

Auditor McCuskey is excited about how each county uses the software in a way that is specific to its needs: “We have a scientific experiment. They’re all doing it in different ways, and they’re learning from each other.”

For example, the Clay County Commission can see how the Gilmer County Commission buys items like tires, paper, or other equipment, said Auditor McCuskey. While telling its own story, each county can also learn best practices from its neighbors, strengthening the state as a whole. 

So, what’s next for Auditor McCuskey and the State of WV? There are still 15 counties to hop on the Project Mountaineer bandwagon, and while Auditor McCuskey is “working on ‘em,” he is not mandating participation:

“I would much rather have 40 people willing participants than 55 unwilling ones. What we have is a team who is committed to transparency, and they are committed to giving their constituents the information that they think they should have.”

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