The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

State: PMUA's lack of financial details its glaring website weakness

Despite lack of financial info, PMUA website beats the city's by a country mile.
The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA)'s lack of financial details on its website (see here) puts it in cahoots with 569 of the state's local authorities that DO NOT POST FINANCIAL INFORMATION to their websites, or 97% of the total of such organizations.

The information is found in a
just released report by the State Comptroller's office on transparency in authorities' websites (the full report is available here, in PDF).

All of the state's local authorities are measured against the following criteria --

  • Website
  • Meeting Information (posting of agendas AND minutes)
  • Financial Reports (budgets, audits, bills, check registers, etc.)
  • Officials Listed (Executive staff, Boards of Commissioners)
  • Contact Information (address, phone, fax, emails)
  • Mission Statement
Amazingly, at least 195 local authorities DO NOT OPERATE A WEBSITE at all.

Considering that these authorities mostly operate relatively unobtrusively, it is troubling that there is so little ONLINE FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE, given that collectively they spend about $5 billion a year, not to mention many millions in bond indebtedness (for all of which the taypayers are ultimately responsible).

Here is a table of the local authorities with which Plainfielders have some sort of contact --



PMUA Yes Partial No Yes Yes Yes
PARSA Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
UCIA Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
UCUA Yes Partial No Yes Yes Yes
HAP Yes Partial No Yes Yes Yes
UCWIB Yes Partial No Yes Yes Yes

Agencies (initials above are links to websites): PMUA (Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority), PARSA (Plainfield Area Sewerage Authority), UCIA (Union County Improvement Authority), UCUA (Union County Utilities Authority), HAP (Housing Authority of Plainfield), WIB (Union County Workforce Improvement Board)

Besides not posting financial information, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) is given only a 'partial' on providing MEETING INFORMATION.

While there is a note on the front page of the time and place of the next Board of Commissioners meeting, I could find no MEETING SCHEDULE on the website. When one looks under THE AUTHORITY |MEETING AGENDA one finds the current/most recent agenda but no others. There is also no option to download (as with the Council agendas), and when printing is attempted, words at the ends of the lines are dropped because what is being printed is the web page (with sidebar) and not the document itself.

While basic contact information is provided, there is NO LIST OF THE EXECUTIVE STAFF and how to reach them (at least as far as I could determine), so I am curious at how the Comptroller arrived at a 'YES' for 'Responsible Official Listed'. Quirkily, the Commissioners are listed under 'Leadership'.

All of this being said, the PMUA website is miles, make that MILES, ahead of the City's in terms of its organization, presentation and efficiency. Missing, thankfully, are the artsy-fartsy gimmicks that strew the front pages of the City's and District's websites (is this what shared services means?), in favor of a straightforward Joe Friday 'just the facts, m'am' presentation which suits me just fine.

The PMUA could take some pointers from the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA), where there are links DIRECTLY FROM THE HOME PAGE to the Commissioners list, their Meeting Schedule (though it needs to be updated to 2011), Agendas (current), Minutes (through 2010), and Approved Bills.

Further there is an Executive Director's page with contact info (though no email) and a link to a (stale 2008) Annual Report.

Despite all this, the UCIA -- as with all the other local authorities -- fails to post its financial information.

The absolute last-of-the-pack locally is the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority (PARSA), which can barely be said to have a presence online (the last time anyone updated any info was January 10, 2011). It does, however, list its executive staff complete with emails. You might ask yourself what PARSA is and does, how it affects you and what it costs you as a taxpayer. You might be surprised. Especially if you can get the information from its website.

The Comptroller's report is a valuable tool, and you can find a wealth of links to other online info on its 'transparency' web page (see here).

There are some things related to transparency, however, that the Comptroller DID NOT MEASURE -- most importantly whether the OPRA CONTACT (custodian of records) was listed and any evaluation of the website's ACCESSIBILITY to Internet users with special needs.

Per aspera ad astra, just so nobody rests on their oars.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Ari said...

Thanks for a thorough review of these agencies. It is interesting how local bloggers and even the DumpPMUA website are all kept updated and are all maintained by average citizens most of whom (I'm assuming) actually have full time jobs. Yet all of these agencies with hundreds of employees cannot keep up! It can only mean one of two things. Either they don't want us to know or they are so incompetent that they cannot figure out how to do it. I'm not sure which one is worse.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't surprise me. Obviously PMUA feels that there are some things left alone.

Anonymous said...

I don't think these type of entities want taxpayers to know in this difficult time that they are spending money on $340 "business luncheons" or over 2,000 for hotel expenses.

If you look at the bills posted on the dumpPMUA site, you can see it all - flowers, catering, business luncheons, hotels, subscription on Bon Appetit (what does that have to do with its mission?) -- and oh yes, lots and lots of expensive consulting.

Interesting that the PMUA spends money on a "water service" to the tune of $700 or so a month. Bottled water? What the heck is this all about? Isn't our tap water safe to drink and a LOT cheaper?

Anonymous said...

It's like the City of Plainfield, if taxpayers knew how their money was being wasted their would be an all out revolt. Once PMUA starts posting their bills, their rates will come down. The public won't tolerate their waste - no pun intended for much longer!