When it comes to the Somervell County budget, there are no secrets. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently awarded the county Leadership Circle Gold Member status for the third consecutive year - 2011-13.
"We are one of very few counties, especially rural, to achieve gold the last three years," County Judge Mike Ford said.
While the application process into the 2013 leadership circle has only been open since January 1, texastransparency.org said as of January 25, Somervell was the only county to have received the honor.
The program was launched by the state in 2009 to recognize local governments across Texas that are meeting a high standard for online financial transparency by opening their books to the public, providing clear and consistent pictures of spending and providing the information in a user-friendly format, according to the Office of Comptroller Susan Combs.
The gold status shines a light on entities that are "setting the bar" with their transparency efforts. Other awards include the silver, which encourages entities that are making progress and the bronze for others that are embarking on the effort.
Ford said Somervell County Commissioners Court remains committed to providing taxpayers with complete access to county finances.
"That effort takes a commitment from the county treasurer (Barbara Hudson), auditor (Darrell Morison), clerk (Candace Garrett), tax accessor (Darlene Chambers) and the information technology (IT) director (Mark Woolverton)," Ford said.
While the county has always had information available to the public, the idea of transparency in government has been a commonly heard "buzz word" for the last four or five years, Ford said, adding the county immediately jumped on board when the expectations for online financial records were laid out by the state. He said while the process has not been an easy one, Woolverton logs many hours to make the information easily accessible and now that the foundation has been laid, records can be more easily expanded and updated.
The county website, co.somervell.tx.us, allows users to view annual budgets and financial reports dating back to 2006, as well as monthly treasurer reports and check registers.
But the service provided does not stop at financial reporting. A complete county directory, public notices, commissioner court meeting agendas and packets and other information are also available.
"When it comes time for commissioners to address an agenda item, we want for somebody to be able to pull up that agenda and see every document we are discussing so there is no room for misunderstanding," Ford said.
While anyone with an internet connection can access a wealth of county information from their computer or wireless device, Ford said the county also remains committed to providing information to other individuals who are not connected to the World Wide Web.
"These are the taxpayers' resources and funds," he said. "We are going to make sure the related information is readily available in whatever format possible."