Yesterday, Cook County released an unprecedented amount of data on their website:

Using the same technology as the City of Chicago's Data Portal, Cook County has posted data related to economic development, county finances, public safety, property and taxation, and more.

At the press conference yesterday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “When I was sworn into office in December, I said that this is the time to open Cook County government to its citizens; to make County government work for its residents. This site puts those words into action,” said Preckwinkle. “I know that the historic lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of Cook County government in many residents’ eyes. Quite simply, a government that is transparent and accountable to its residents is a more effective government.”

Well put. It's exciting to see both the City of Chicago and Cook County creating new, innovative ways to inform and engage with citizens about important local issues including public safety, economic development and especially government spending.

One of my favorite interactive tools on the Cook County website is the "Tough Choices" tool, where users are encouraged to make tough choices around the county budget. Users can move sliders to increase and decrease revenue, or increase and decrease spending in order to balance the budget. The user is then encouraged to make suggestions to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle about how to balance the budget. It's informative, engaging, and dare I say, fun.

Across America, local governments face excruciating choices forced by falling revenue from the economic downturn. As local governments make these budgetary decisions in tough economic times, it is even more important for the public to be able to understand how tax dollars are spent. Opening the government’s checkbook empowers citizens to involve themselves in budgetary debates and to act as watchdogs to ensure that the government spends money fairly and efficiently.

With better spending transparency, local governments can better ensure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely and citizens in the not-so-distant future will be able to feel confident in knowing that each dollar of city expenditure is accounted for and that they can play a more constructive role in debates over how those dollars are spent.