Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin doesn’t want a city of secrets, and in keeping to that goal, he hopes to empower its people as well. And as he travels across the city this year to extoll the values of the Los Angeles Control Panel, he sees the next phase of the project as the perfect launching pad for successful advocacy in the city.
The Los Angeles Control Panel website offers transparency on city purchases, staff payroll, contractors, liabilities, assets, and special funds. Employees call it the “front page” of what is ultimately a very sophisticated and complex financial management system.
“It changes the game on the ability to advocate, and really empowers Angelenos to be very knowledgeable and effective advocates,” Galperin said, noting the website hit the six million views milestone early this year.
For example, if advocates were looking to open a local dog park, they now have the tools to figure out financially feasible ways for the city to intervene. By having an open book, residents can look through the money — like categories of Special Funds — and find out what is and is not committed, and what can or cannot be used for different purposes.
He also hopes the transparency will create a small army of allies.
“As Controller, it is impossible to absolutely scrutinize every single thing the city does, but by opening this up for everybody else, everyone can join me in being a watchdog and advocate,” Galperin said. “Just start exploring it. We do have online tutorials. We also have contact information by email and phone of people who can walk you through something.”
The Los Angeles Control Panel launched in 2013 as the city’s first open data port focusing on financial transactions — there is a separate panel for the DWP. The website was a major campaign promise by Galperin, who started July 1 that year and unveiled the Control Panel in October.
“I believe that it is necessary that government on every level be as transparent as it can be,” Galperin said. “When everything the city is doing in terms of how it spends its money is out for everyone to see, it really changes the way we operate and makes people more accountable.”
Galperin often cites how much the city is spending on gloves as an example. Searching “gloves” brings up all the different kinds of glove orders that have taken place in the last year, giving a full sense of what kind of gloves are being bought by who. The city spent $5 million last year.
“At first, that seems like a large number, but then you see how varied and vast the city operations are,” Galperin said, adding there is actually a special page showing the sheer variety of items the city buys (a helicopter, soccer balls, mops).
A major goal of opening the city up in this way is to help businesses, Galperin added. In theory, potential vendors can look up whether the city is buying what they are selling, and then figure out how to make a more competitive bid in the future.
Details on payroll include pay periods, bonuses, sick time, vacation time, and health benefits for a workforce of approximately 42,000. There are 900-plus special funds outlined. The city’s budget is approximately $8 billion.
Galperin said it was his goal to continue to work with UCLA in a variety of ways, and he was happy to continue to offer this newer tool to advocates. The Controller’s Office also enlists UCLA interns, participates in hackathons (app creating contests), and speaks at classes on campus.