Buono Bill To Enhance Transparency At Authorities Clears Senate

Measure Responds to Comptroller Finding That 92% of Local Authorities Omit Basic Information Online

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Sen. Jennifer Beck to require all independent authorities to maintain an online presence to allow public access to basic financial and other information was passed out of the full Senate today and sent to the governor’s desk.

This measure (A-3908/S-2765) is based on a state Comptroller recommendation that local agencies – from municipal utilities authorities (MUAs) to parking authorities – maintain a website that puts certain basic information at the public’s fingertips. In a report released earlier this year, the Comptroller found that while 65 percent maintain a website of some kind, only 8 percent of the 587 local agencies that have independent fiscal authority and responsibility for more than $5 billion in taxpayer and ratepayer money provide useful public information via the internet.

The measure would go beyond the Comptroller’s recommendation to include all public authorities.

“In too many cases, the public has no access to basic yet essential information such as meeting schedules or minutes, financial information, or even a mission statement,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “There is absolutely no reason for any public entity to not maintain a website that would allow taxpayers – who pay the bills at these authorities – immediate access to basic financial and other information.”

“The people of New Jersey have for too long been calling for increased transparency in government, and it is time that this comes to pass,” said Beck (R-Monmouth). “Among the 587 agencies reviewed, one third do not provide basic contact information online. Approximately 38 percent of housing authorities have no web presence at all. That is unacceptable.”

The senators said the measure would be an overdue requirement that authorities be transparent. They added that in the wake of news reports of waste at several large utility authorities, the public must have the ability to act as a fiscal and good-government watchdog over even small, local entities.

Among the information that would be required to be posted on each website:

· A list of board/commission members;

· Contact information including a street address, phone number, and email address;

· A statement of the entity’s mission along and responsibilities;

· The adopted budget for its current year;

· The most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or similar document as well as the most recent annual audit;

· Official notice of any meeting of the entity’s governing body or committees;

· Approved minutes of each meeting of the governing body and its committees;

“Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.’ In this day and age, we need that light to include the glow of a computer screen,” said Buono.

The bill passed 39-0.