By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
If you want to know how much Bowling Green State University spends at the Cookie Jar, you now have the tool to tell you.
BGSU became the first of its peers among state universities to post a list of the checks it issues on line.
Tuesday President Mary Ellen Mazey and State Treasurer Josh Mandel announced that BGSU’s Ohio Checkbook page was live, allowing anyone to peruse the more than 27,000 individual transactions, amounting to more than $39 million that the university made in fiscal year 2015. Those do not include paychecks.
“Starting today,” Mandel said, “taxpayers, students, and families will be able to follow the money.”
“As someone who used to work with a lot of local governments I think it’s paramount for all of us to make sure we’re completely transparent,” Mazey said. “It’s not our funds; it’s the taxpayers’ funds and in our case, students’ and their parents’ funds.”
Mandel launched the effort in 2014, posting the check information for state agencies, including his own. One agency, JobsOhio, a private economic development agency set up by Gov. John Kasich, is a holdout. Mandel, who is running for U.S. Senate, said he believes that information should be available.
After the state, Mandel reached out to cities,villages, townships, and school districts. The program is not mandated, he said. He’s looking for “partners.”
The move into higher education is the next step. He described BGSU as “the pointy edge of the spear” will help encourage other institutions to follow its lead and post on OhioCheckbook.
OhioCheckbook sites for Central State and Central Ohio Technical College are also going live today.
The OhioCheckbook also has a link for a separate database in which someone can look up employees’ salaries, though not student employees’ salaries.
Mandel noted that the launch of the OhioCheckbook project served to propel the state from 46th of the U.S. Public Interest Research group’s transparency list to number 1.
At BowlingGreenStateUniversity.OhioCheckbook.com, the sources of the checks is assigned to offices with broad oversight – the vice president of student affairs, vice president for academic affairs, vice president for financial affairs, office of the president, and institutional. The checks give the name of the vendor and the amount. Clicking on the name of the vendor will show the detail in check form including a check number. The spending is assigned to broad categories travel, services, inventory supplies, and capital equipment.
All this can be searched in a variety of ways. Graphs show spending trends.
So you can find out that the university spent $946.25 at Cookie Jar & More in FY 2015.
However, a large number of checks, mostly for travel and service, list the vendor as “Confidential & Non-Public Information.”
University spokesman Dave Kielmeyer later explained that the decision was made not to include the name for checks written to individuals because of legal concerns related to privacy and confidentiality, including revealing student information. The checks with that vendor designation amount to just over $2 million.
All the information is a public record, so nothing in Ohio Checkbook is newly available. It just saves citizens and the press asking or even submitting Freedom of Information Act request, Mandel said. The state’s newspapers, he said, have been one of the biggest supporters of the plan.
In terms of actually tracking what the university spends, the reports provided by Stoll to Faculty Senate, the Board of Trustees, and other entities, offer a fuller and more in-depth picture including both revenues and expenditures.
She said the 2016 fiscal year information is almost ready to post on Checkbook.
Stoll said she worked with several other universities to tailor the template provided by the treasurer’s office to the needs of colleges and universities, and beyond that to fit how each institution keeps track of spending.
Those universities include Wright State, Ohio University, and Miami University.
In Wood County, 15 entities, including county government, have posted their data. The city of Bowling Green has committed to doing so, but has not yet made its data available.