CHEYENNE — A newly created transparency website will give the public access to Wyoming state government expenditures and be a boon for fiscal watchdogs.
That was the take- away from the Equality State Taxpayers Association of the creation of WyOpen.gov, the new website created by the State Auditor’s Office that contains public expenditure information.
The Sheridan-based public watchdog organization was a part of the lawsuit against former State Auditor Cynthia Cloud that tried to gain access to six year’s worth of Wyoming’s expenditures, the same type of information that will now be readily available.
Current State Auditor Kristi Racines ended that lawsuit when she released those records in February, and refunded Equality State Taxpayers and American Transparency, a Chicago-based group that runs the website OpenTheBooks.com, $7,820 in fees previously paid by the two groups.
“We’re very happy. She did a great job,” said Kevin Lewis, vice president of the Equality State Taxpayers Association. “She was able to do it at zero cost to the state. And, quite frankly, she’s taken a good leadership position as far as transparency in the state of Wyoming goes.”
Currently, the website has the state’s checkbook receipts going back to 2016, with the goal of updating the site with new information on a quarterly basis.
Lewis said he believed the information on the website would address the vast majority of public records requests the Auditor’s Office receives.
“She designed it specifically based on requests that had come into the Auditor’s Office. Which is a good way to lower the workload, by making those things publicly available, as they should be,” Lewis said.
A request to Racines for comment on the process for creating the website, and information on how many public records requests might be addressed by the information at WyOpen.gov, was not returned by press time.
“Our hope is that WyOpen will continue to evolve based on user feedback and the work of the Wyoming Financial Transparency Group,” Racines said in a news release when the site officially went online earlier this month. “WyOpen is not a final solution to transparency, but a tool to enable a better-informed public. Transparency in government should be the norm and not the exception. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and I look forward to continued transparency efforts.”
Wyoming has often ranked low in national transparency rankings. The state was ranked 49th and received an “F” in a 2015 review by the Center for Public Integrity. An accompanying narrative pointed out flaws in open meetings and public records laws and noted the unusual lack of an independent ethics agency.
Racines and Gov. Mark Gordon formed a transparency working group after taking office in January, and have had regular meetings throughout the year to work on issues related to improving that ranking. Racines announced the creation of WyOpen.gov during the June 5 meeting of the transparency working group.