Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sunshine websites: State AG's new one eclipsed by governor's?

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox held a press conference yesterday, featuring guest-star-consumer-advocate-via-telephone Ralph Nader, and supporting roles by House Minority Leader Craig DeRoche, (R-Novi), and Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, (R-Kalamazoo), to roll out a new section on the AG department's web site called "Tracking Your Taxes."

A press release from Cox's office declared:

"that his office is the first in state government to create a page on the department's website detailing the expenditures of the AG's office, including contracts, salaries and wages, equipment and other spending."
Cox also did a little trumpeting himself:
"Our office is a leader in defending Freedom of Information requests and Open Meetings Acts. Letting the sunshine in on state government expenditures is the next step in open government. The public has a right to see how their tax dollars are being spent. Our 'Track Your Taxes' webpage will let all Michigan citizens see how the Attorney General's office puts their money to work."
And Nader, after dishing up telephonic kudos to the AG, let it be known that he hoped Gov. Jennifer Granholm "follows his example and makes the full text of all Michigan state contracts available to the public via the Internet."

But wait a minute.

"The governor long ago ordered all state contracting information to be available online, and it is," the Associated Press quoted Granholm spokesperson Liz Boyd as saying.

It is, indeed. Right here.

Rusty Hills, Cox's spokesperson, did some quibbling. From the AP's dispatch:
"Cox spokesman Rusty Hills questioned the thoroughness of the list of contracts compiled by the Granholm administration. He said Cox's list includes six pages of contracts for one department, while the state lists 16 pages for everything else."
And as for the completeness of the AG's "Track Your Taxes" website? Of the eight categories listed, clicking seven of them, "Building Occupancy," "Contract Services," "Supplies & Maintenance," "Equipment," "Information Technology," "Insurance/Fringe Benefits," "Rent," "Salary & Wages" and "Travel," returns only a figure representing spending for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2008.

According to the Associated Press, "Cox said that in a perfect world, he would like his site to be more interactive. But he noted it did not cost anything to create and his staff put it together quickly."

The contract category that Hills mentioned has a spread sheet listing, but not the full text of the contracts, as Nader urged the governor to provide. Here, you can actually learn some details, such as
  • Ikon Office Solutions has been awarded a bunch of equipment leases.

  • The department has a one-year, $3,555 contract with insider newsletter Gongwer News Service.

  • Miller Canfield has a legal services contract for $343,559.50 ending in June 2008, with $43,233.72 left unspent at the end of last month.

  • Lucille S. Taylor, the wife of Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, has a legal services contract worth $24,500 through the end of September 2008, with $20,320 not spent at the close of the quarter.
Click here for more AG sunshine.

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