The city of Grand Rapids is a model of government transparency, while the local transit partnership leaves something to be desired, according to a Kent County organization.
Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonpartisan taxpayer advocacy group, gives the city of Grand Rapids an “A” for “doing an excellent job of posting information for the public’s awareness.” However, the local Interurban Transit Partnership, The Rapid, received a “D–.”
“We were surprised by how little information The Rapid makes available to the taxpayers of Kent County,” the group stated in the press release. “[W]e hope that, because of this poor showing, the board of directors of The Rapid dedicates some resources to improving this score in the future.”
On its website, the organization’s transparency project says that it is not surprised by the findings, explaining that it has had to “resort to Freedom of Information Act requests” just to get “basic information” from the transit group.
“It’s unfortunate that The Rapid, which sees fit to spend $250,000 on a piece of art for its headquarters, can’t spend some money to make itself more transparent to the taxpayers who pay the bills. It’s extremely inexpensive to post information to the Internet these days, but our inclination is that The Rapid does this on purpose.”
The Rapid CEO Peter Varga disagrees with the group’s assessment. In an email, Varga said, “The Rapid is a highly transparent public enterprise, accountable to taxpayers and continuously reports measurable success.
“The Board of Directors holds open meetings including all committee meetings, the budgets are approved in a public setting, the minutes are posted on line, and major documents such as Environmental Assessments, alternatives analysis and the Transit Master Plan are available to the public and on line.”
KCFFR says on its website that each governmental body was rated based on availability of information, budgets and audits, meeting minutes, employee pay scales, union contracts and other select information. Scores were added up based on the number of possible points, and a final letter grade was assigned
The group believes the ease of posting this information online for local taxpayers to see should spur transparency in the county.
“The whole purpose of the survey is to gauge our local governments in their level of transparency, provide a means of determining progress from one year to the next, and hopefully encourage some productive competition to improve easy access to information,” said spokesman Eric Larson.