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Portage County has taken an extra step toward greater government transparency, becoming the 20th county in the state to join OhioCheckbook.com.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel unveiled the county's website for the open checkbook program at a small press conference at the Aurora Advocate / Record-Courier offices Aug. 8.
Also in attendance at the announcement was County Auditor Janet Esposito, who spearheaded the push for the county to join the program.
In 2014, Mandel announced the launch of Ohiocheckbook.com, a searchable, easy-to-use website that allows the state government to share information on almost $600 billion in state and local spending over the course of a seven-year period.
For the past two years, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave Ohio an A+ rating for financial transparency, the only state to receive that score and the highest rating ever given by the group.
By introducing the website, Mandel's office has improved the state's transparency from 46th to first in the nation.
"The goal is not transparency. The goal here is changing behavior. It is to make politicians and bureaucrats think twice before they waste taxpayer money or defraud the citizens," Mandel said.
"The other goal is empowering taxpayers to hold politicians accountable. This initiative is all about power of the people."
He said the website covers everything from a $2 box of pencil to multimillion dollar transactions for highway repairs.
Esposito said inclusion in the state website allows for greater detail of records searches compared with the information available on the county's website.
"In this process of posting information online, there's leaders and there's followers. Janet should be commended for being a leader," Mandel said. "[She] was one of the first local government officials in the entire state of Ohio [to ask about joining the checkbook]."
Because of the positive response from the state's checkbook being placed online, Mandel said officials decided to invite local agencies to join. As of last year, more than 18,000 government agencies have been invited to join.
Of the 3,962 local government and school districts in the state, 769 have voluntary joined the service "in a friendly partnership," Mandel said.
Portage County joins Mantua Village, the city of Streetsboro and the Crestwood school district in the program.
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