Comptroller report finds little transparency on boards, commissions

A report from the state comptroller found that very few of the 587 local authorities are fully transparent, with many failing to post basic information on their websites about their finances and operations.

The extensive report released Tuesday found that only 36 percent of those authorities – park commissions, sewerage authorities, improvement authorities, parking authorities, fire districts, housing authorities – among other agencies – have a website.

It also found that only 8 percent of them post meeting minutes, schedules and public meeting agendas on the website. Only 3 percent of those entities post a fiscal report on their respective websites.

“For too long, many local authorities and commissions in New Jersey have acted like private clubs, publicizing agency information only when it suits their needs,” state Comptroller Matthew Boxer said. “New Jersey residents are entitled to information about the operations of all of the government entities they fund – and those government entities must do a better job of providing the public with access to that information.” Only 7 percent of the agencies are considered by the state comptroller’s office as fully transparent.

Boxer’s report recommends that all local agencies create or have a website that includes the following:

*detailed agency financial information;

*a description of the agency’s mission and responsibilities;

*basic contact information, including the name and phone number of at least one official responsible for the agency’s actions; and

*a schedule of the agency’s meeting dates, agendas for future public meetings and the minutes of prior meetings.

The report estimated that it cost more than $5 billion to run those hundreds of agencies, based on their expenses and debt, and more than 10,000 agency employees are currently enrolled in the state pension system.

The high number of agencies, as well as the state having 566 municipalities and 604 school districts, means there’s one governmental unit every 3.8 square miles of the state. Such a high number could lead to a lot of inefficiencies, Boxer said.

“When you have so many government units, each contracting separately for services and each hiring their own personnel, the costs of government become duplicative and maximizing efficiency becomes nearly impossible,” Boxer said.

A complete list of how the 587 local agencies fared in each transparency category is included with the report. The report can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/comptroller

Comptroller report finds little transparency on boards, commissions