The gold ball of transparency

Comptroller Gold Circle logo (gold ball with white stars)Guess how much Capital Metro paid last month for upholstery? Well, you don’t have to guess. The information is at your fingertips on the handy Financial and Audit Information Page on our website.

For the second straight year, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts is recognizing Capital Metro as a leader in local government transparency. The Comptroller calls it the Leadership Circle “Gold” certification.  The program recognizes local governments that strive to meet a high standard of financial transparency by opening their books to the public and providing information in a clear, consistent and user-friendly format.

Last year, Capital Metro was the first transit system in Texas and the first government agency in Austin area to receive the Gold designation.

Awards are nice, and we get to put the cool gold ball logo on our website again this year. But really what this is all about is doing what’s right. If we hold ourselves to a higher standard of openness, then you’ll have a much clearer picture of how Capital Metro does its business. And if you’re interested, you can pretty much see how every dollar is spent.

Here’s some of what you’ll be able to find online:

  • Accounts payable check register (first Texas transit system to provide online)
  • Purchase card transaction register (first Texas transit system to provide online)
  • Annual budget for the current and previous four years (with enhanced charts added in 2011)
  • Monthly financial status reports that include income statements, budget variances by department, capital expenditures and projected cash flows
  • Contract catalog record showing the status of all contracts including dates, vendors, expenditures and percentages of completion
  • Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) from the past five years
  • Federal Triennial Reviews since 2003
  • State Quadrennial Reviews since 2004
  • Internal Audit summary reports from the past five years
  • Executive staff salaries

More public entities have earned the coveted Gold ball this year. Check out the Comptroller’s site to see if your favorite public agency (or second favorite, after Capital Metro) is on the list.

7 thoughts on “The gold ball of transparency

    1. Will

      Transparency is putting everything out there – not just the good stuff.

      And cutting executive salaries of a publicily funded taxpayer agency. They want to privatize? Then they should end their duopoly quasi-monopoly. If all I can afford for lunch is a bag of chips and Arizona Ice Tea 99 cent can.

      I need to see their electric bills item by item, telephone bills item by item, water, permits, etc.

      The term Misc, or Other expenses should not be used. All bidders should be disclosed as well. They are following Fred Marlon Gilliam’s number 1 commandment: Ignore, and not be available for comment. Comment only to What will make you look good.

      William Micheal Martinez’s Number one commandment is: Answer and silence all forms of rebuttals by the people.

  1. Pingback: Happy (fiscal) New Year! « Capital MetroBlog

  2. Matt

    Why are the freight revenues ($4,537,833) less than the freight expenses($7,434,448). Is running freight on the red line actually costing Cap Metro money? If so, why still do it?

    1. Adam

      Good questions, Matt. In our FY2012 budget, the budgeted direct operating cost for freight is $3.9 million, and the estimated revenue is $4.6 million. The big chart you’re looking at includes the fully-allocated costs. This represents each operation’s share of the administrative and overhead functions (Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Planning, etc) in support of these operations. Each mode (freight rail, passenger rail, bus, etc.) is assigned a share of these general and administrative expenses based on an agreed to and approved allocation methodology and how each operation contributes to the whole within Capital Metro.

      Earlier this calendar year, we changed our freight business model and signed a new lease agreement with our freight operator, Watco. As a result, our direct operating costs in FY2012 are budgeted to be about 57 percent lower than in the FY2011 budget. Based on this new deal, Capital Metro’s direct operating costs for freight are limited to one employee’s salary/benefits and some fuel expenses. Under the new agreement, Watco absorbed the rest of the freight operating and maintenance expenses.

      As for why we operate freight, as the owner of the Giddings-Llano rail line, Capital Metro has a common carrier obligation. We’re required to serve any potential freight customer as long as the requestor meets the appropriate safety regulations and we have the capacity available.

      1. Matt

        If there’s only one capital metro employee working on freight, is that allocation methodology really equitable/appropriate? For instance, I would assume that none of Cap Metro’s marketing is really directed towards freight customers.

        Hypothetically, if it was in Capital Metro’s best financial interests to no longer operate freight, what would it take for it to no longer be a common carrier. Sell off the rest of the Giddings-Llano rail line (outside of the red line corrider)? Tear up the lines except for the red line?

        1. Adam

          I don’t envy my colleagues who develop those allocation methodologies. But it definitely makes sense to regularly review how the general and administrative expenses are shared. Among many other things, the marketing staff helps develop materials that support rail (passenger & freight) safety efforts, so it would still make sense to have some shared costs in freight. But that’s just one small example I thought of without having any numbers in front of me.

          I don’t know the legal answer to your hypothetical question other than no longer owning the railroad.

          Freight is an interesting topic. Maybe we’ll do a blog update sometime about how things are doing with the new business model.

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