Capitol Alert

Tim Draper pushes free transparency software for counties

Tim Draper is seeing that state counties have software that can make their budgets viewable to anyone.
Tim Draper is seeing that state counties have software that can make their budgets viewable to anyone. The Associated Press

Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s “Innovate Your State” non-profit on Wednesday announced the first winning idea to come out of its crowdsourcing challenge: Every county will get a year’s subscription to software he says would let taxpayers see everything from total revenue to how much a police department spends on flak jackets.

Draper’s “Fix California Challenge” solicits ideas for public policy changes and lets people cast votes for them online. Winners are considered for help with fundraising and organizing, or possibly direct grants.

Wednesday’s announcement revealed that the non-profit will pay up to $500,000 to offer every county in California reimbursement for a year’s subscription to “OpenGov,” a software that lets county governments post their budget in a hyper-detailed but user-friendly interface.

“We are going to give everybody a great window on how those counties operate their finances,” Draper said.

The OpenGov submission ranks fairly low on the list of initiatives submitted. On Wednesday, it had 37 votes compared to the top submission’s 234. (A proposal to split California into two states). There are twelve other proposals that rank higher than the OpenGov idea.

But Draper said he’s sold on the idea. He did, after all, make his own investment in the software project after the company presented its proposal. Asked Wednesday if he might make money on the deal the grant is helping, he said “I hope so.”

Draper, who was behind a proposed ballot initiative to split California into six states, thinks the move will make a big political splash.

“I challenge any county not to do this. It’s free. If they’re not doing it, what are they hiding?”

It may not be quite that simple, especially in small and mid-sized counties where officials question whether they have the manpower to work with the OpenGov team.

“I would disagree with (Draper),” said Chester Robertson, county administration officer for the Modoc County in rural Northern California. “In recession times ... our reporting requirements are increasing and we have experienced declines in staff.”

In Sierra County, where OpenGov software is in use, Chief Deputy Auditor Caleb Nelson called the monthly report OpenGov requires county officials to prepare “a little cumbersome.” The software provides users with specific spending detail. At the OpenGov site for Palo Alto, you can see how much is spent in a year on trees, or meter reading.

“It’s a fresh approach, and we need to think big,” Draper said.

Andrew Holzman: 916-326-5545, @andrewlholzman