ClearGov President & Co-Founder, Bryan Burdick, Hosts Q&A Session At NACo Conference
At a recent NACo conference, ClearGov President & Co-Founder, Bryan Burdick joined a session for leveraging financial technology (fintech) for today’s modern county governments. Through NACo’s Financial Services Corporation (FSC), the organization identifies programs and services that will generate revenue, cost savings, efficiencies, and provide a significant benefit to the members of NACo. Strategic partners chosen by NACo FSC have been vetted and are endorsed for their best practices. They’ve gone through a lengthy evaluation process that lasts more than a year, and they must meet over 100 different criteria before they get the NACo seal of approval.
Not surprisingly, ClearGov is the preferred government budgeting solution of NACo FSC!
As part of the session, Bryan hosted a Q&A to help county financial employees better understand the software and the benefits of modernizing their government’s budgeting process. Bryan was joined by Jason Carini, the county treasurer of Rogers County, Oklahoma, who shared his experience working with ClearGov and how the software helps their workforce. Here are the highlights from the session:
BRYAN: Can you share your story and how you ended up working with ClearGov?
JASON: I first got elected as county treasurer 8 years ago. I came in with a couple other individuals; one of them is county commissioner Ron Burrows.
We wanted to try to be even more transparent than what the laws were in Oklahoma. Following a big commissioner scandal in the 70’s and 80’s, counties were required to submit their budget as a PDF file that’s submitted to a state auditor and posted online. You could go to the state auditor’s website and look at all of our budgets for the last 15 years, but you have to have a master’s degree in how a PDF works. So even though we were 100% transparent to the public, the public cannot read these documents.
Our goal was to improve transparency by putting our budget online, but there were issues that didn’t work. A neighboring county had done it, but that county was about 10 times our size. Which means they have staff and people who are experts in Word and creating PDFs.
At the same time, I became aware of the Government Finance Officers Association’s (GFOA) budget award. I wanted to try to be able to pursue the award, and the commissioners I was working with on the budget gave me their blessing.
Part of the reason why we wanted to pursue the GFOA award was the fact that, in Oklahoma, there are three commissioners, and each year a different commissioner is the chairman of the board. We noticed that the financial vision for the county lasted only about one year. How do you focus on 5 years or 10 years in the future of the county? Where does the county want to go? We realized while looking at the GFOA award that part of the criteria entails putting financial policies out there. You have to include your goals, where you’re currently at, and where you want to go.
I started researching government budgeting software and came across two different vendors that would match up with the GFOA budget award and reached out to them, and man, I had a great onboarding experience from ClearGov. Our goal was to put our budget out there in a very interactive format for the public to be able to see and for us to be able to share our story.
BRYAN: You published your budget book this year and you won the GFOA award, right?
JASON: We did. We got our budget online and submitted it to GFOA. It takes them about 4 or 5 months to review. We got the announcement mid-June that it met all the metrics for the standard and that we were awarded the budget award.
This was a great thing because the public assumes certain things about county governments. I thought it validated the work that we’re doing and it brings more transparency. As an example, being a treasurer, a tax collector, I collect all of the property tax. I cannot tell you how many citizens come in; they write their $2,000 check and they say, “Alright, I want good roads.” Well, your property tax doesn’t go to roads; your sales tax goes to roads. So publishing our budget online in a transparent and easy to understand way, and having our work validated by the GFOA, helped demystify how tax dollars are spent.
BRYAN: Can you talk a little bit about the ClearGov onboarding process — what you liked and what you didn’t like about it?
JASON: I had an experience with another vendor 5 or 6 years ago that was very frustrating because it turned out to be a 9 to 12-month onboarding process that never fully materialized.
The ClearGov onboarding process happened within 30 to 60 days, from the very start of it. As a bonus, the process also helped me clean up our chart of accounts. But what was really nice was the ClearGov team. We didn’t have to rely on one person if they’re on vacation, multiple people saw our email requests, and we were able to set up meetings within 3-5 days — instead of having to wait 2-4 weeks.
BRYAN: Talk about some of the early results. I’m curious what some of the early feedback from your commissioners or the community was? What have you heard from people now that you published this award-winning budget book?
JASON: There’s a handful of 10 or 12 people in our community who are always calling us. They want to know this, they want to find out. Sometimes you get an upset citizen. Having the budget on the website has allowed us to be proactive and have all of the information readily available to help mitigate potential situations. Now I say, “Hey, just go to our website. It’s all up there.” And since we’ve done that, I’ve hardly heard from these folks at all.
BRYAN: One of the things that we’ve heard from a lot of our customers is that the average citizen really couldn’t make their way through PDFs full of complex budget data. We’ve heard that with that kind of publicly available information, citizens will find a piece of data, jump to the entirely wrong conclusion, and then that creates a storm of controversy. Has the budget book and presenting this information in a way that everybody can understand addressed that issue?
JASON: It has. Just having the general knowledge, like the fact that property taxes aren’t going to pay for roads, helps the public better understand how tax money is spent. The online budget allows us to tell our story.
And it’s funny; no one really wants to come to the courthouse unless there’s a problem, right? Most citizens are happy they just go out on the roads and get home alive. But the ones that hit a pothole or something happens, we hear from them. Now we can easily direct them to the website to see the status of capital projects.
ANNIE REICH: I’m Annie Reich from Butte County, South Dakota. My question is, you talk about educating your public on what your funds are used for. Do you do that just on your website? Because we’ve been talking about doing some community outreach called “Lunch and Learns” where we go out in the community and say, “Hey, this is where our funding comes from, this is where it goes to.” Have you thought about doing that at all?
JASON: Yes, we’re always out in the community. For example, every year there’s a “State of the County,” and the commissioners, whoever’s the chairman, takes a turn doing that to communicate with the public. A couple years ago there was a vote to have a one-cent road tax, so there was a lot of education and communication surrounding that. There’s also a lot of communication during election years.
BRIGID SHEA: Brigid Shea, Travis County, Texas. FinTech for me equates more with Blockchain and that kind of thing; is that at all a part of this? I’m trying to figure out how governments are using it. I’m hearing more and more about how businesses are using Blockchain in particular, but I don’t have a good sense for how governments are using it. Will that be at all part of the discussion today?
BRYAN: Blockchain is not at all part of our technology platform. The essence of Blockchain is really just a way of super-encrypting data. And instead of having the data encrypted in just one place, it’s sliced up into different blocks. There’s a chain of those blocks and the fact that that data is sliced up technically makes it that much harder to decrypt and have access to.
In ClearGov’s case, we actually use AWS for our hosting platform. The reason we selected AWS is because they are the hosting platform that is certified by the federal government to maintain security.
So they’re fully compliant; you’d have to be able to break into Amazon to break into ClearGov. But there’s no Blockchain.
Frankly, our mission in ClearGov is to provide simple solutions. To make this simple to use, easy to implement, easy to afford, and really streamline your process. So the technology behind the scenes is pretty sophisticated, but we work really hard to make it intuitive and easy to use on the front end.
BRYAN: What’s your favorite thing about ClearGov so far?
JASON: I’ve had the opportunity to sit and watch numerous demos of different software after being in office for seven years. A month after onboarding with ClearGov, the news came out that they were partnering with NACo, and it made me realize, “Hey, this is a legitimate process that we’re doing here.” The GFOA award further validated that we made the right choice.
The best part of ClearGov was the easy onboarding and having our budget easily accessible on our website. If you go to RogersCounty.org, right under the front image, there’s a link right there to our budget. I’ve also printed PDF versions of our budget and gone out to the public on a few occasions to do a presentation. You should see how wide everyone’s eyes open up. They’re like, “Wow, I did not know all of this about county government.” They just take it for granted. To be able to show that to the public, to show all of the arms involved in county government, and make people more appreciative of what we do… I mean, that just says it. That gives me the greatest satisfaction right there.