Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Finance Officer's Role in Making Democracy Work

Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Finance Officer's Role in Making Democracy Work

Article excerpt

Ever wonder how important your job is as a public finance professional?

Last fall, I attended the Florida GFOA conference, made my usual comments, and updated participants about what was going on at the GFOA. Afterward, Bob Inzer, who is the elected Clerk of the Court for Leon County, Florida, as well as a good friend of GFOA and a former Executive Board member, approached me with some advice and a suggestion: Take this opportunity, as you travel around this country meeting with finance professionals, to tell them how important their job is, especially as it relates to making democracy work.

Most of us have probably not given a great deal of thought to the ways in which our roles are important to a democratic society, but the topic is worth considering. Following are some ideas to consider.

SHARING INFORMATION AND IDEAS

A democratic society places great importance on information, accountability, and trust. As a finance professional working in the public arena, you play a critical role in providing reliable information, assuring financial accountability, and creating the trust necessary for a citizen-engaged environment.

A major part of your job is to communicate and inform. You do this with your budget documents, your financial statements, and your audit reports.

Thomas Jefferson observed that "information is the currency of democracy." He also said: "A free and fair marketplace of ideas forms the foundations and framework for civic discourse. People sharing information and ideas are investing their ideas and information to build a better community. The more that people can speak and be heard in the process of public deliberation, the greater value our political economy will have."

You play a major role in facilitating what Jefferson calls the sharing of information and ideas. And as you know, this can be challenging in our electronic age. Technology has fundamentally transformed how our governments conduct business, and our environment is increasingly mobile, competitive, and information-intensive.

In my county--Montgomery County, Maryland--we recently initiated a program called "Open Montgomery." The initiative comprises four major programs:

* dataMontgomery provides direct access to the county's datasets via the Internet.

* mobileMontgomery makes data and communications channels available on mobile devices so residents may consume information when, where, and how they choose to do so.

* accessMontgomery makes use of the county's extensive resources disseminate information to a highly mobile constituency.

engageMontgomery is designed to make use of a number of social media and social engagement platforms to involve county residents in participatory government.

I encourage you to take a look at this comprehensive approach to providing what Jefferson called "the sharing of information and ideas ... to build a better community."

ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRUST

Accountability for public finances is also at the heart of our democratic process. There is perhaps no issue that galvanizes the interest of your citizens more than knowing how much they will be taxed and what use is made of their contributions. Finance officials who engage their residents and work with them in all aspects of financial programming and policymaking will enhance governmental accountability in very significant ways.

Democracy also depends on trust. Your role is to strengthen democracy by providing the information and accountability that helps create trust in the government. …

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