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Officials to discuss openness initiatives

By TRAVIS CRUM The Herald-Dispatch tcrum@heralddispatch.comMay 27, 2019


HUNTINGTON — Cabell County commissioners are considering two proposals that would bring more transparency to their budget and their meetings.

The first proposal is from the West Virginia state auditor, who asked commissioners to join a project to upload the county’s revenues and expenses online. The second request is from Commissioner Kelli Sobonya, who suggested the commission upload recordings of its meetings to its website.

During a commission meeting Thursday, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey gave commissioners a presentation on OpenGovernment.gov, a website that lets people track municipal and county government budgets online.

McCuskey said 14 counties have agreed to join onto the project, including Kanawha County. He asked Cabell commissioners to also consider joining, thus providing a tool to empower people to be more involved in how their tax money is being spent.

The project came about after state legislators mandated McCuskey perform more rural audits, particularly on each of the state’s volunteer fire departments. Without extra money to get it done, McCuskey said legislators agreed to let fourth-year accounting students perform the audits as part of their regular curriculum.

Having the budgets available online prevents the accounting students from having to travel to the various cities and counties to photocopy everything by hand.

“We are using this technology to build out what we believe is the most efficient and the most cost-effective accounting method in the county for

government finance,” he said. “What we will be able to do is monitor for fraud and do audits from any place in West Virginia.”

Auditor’s Office employee Jessica Kirk, who is leading the small government accountability project, unrolled the program in her previous position as deputy Boone County clerk.

Kirk said the program takes about 30 minutes to learn and only takes about 15 minutes to upload the information. The information would be reported to the website either monthly or quarterly, McCuskey said. The program is free for counties and cities to use and is provided by the Auditor’s Office.

Commissioners said they would add the item for discussion and a possible decision during their June 13 meeting. Commission President Nancy Cartmill said she wanted to first consult with Cabell County Clerk Phyllis Smith, who handles the revenues and expenses for the county.

Also during the meeting, Sobonya asked commissioners to consider a proposal to upload recordings of the meetings to YouTube. She had originally requested they purchase a digital camera and to record video and upload it online, which would be linked to the county’s website.

She also suggested uploading the audio recordings as a YouTube video, which would require no additional costs. The county already records its meetings on an audio recorder, which is available to the public for inspection or via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Sobonya said when she was running for commissioner during the 2018 election, she encountered several constituents who did not know the commission’s role in the county and the commissioners’ job duties.

Commissioners will consider the proposal during their next meeting.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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