A half-hour change in meeting time led to a long-awaited public discussion between Zionsville’s mayor and town council about a lack of available financial information caused by switching to a new software that claims to improve transparency.
In 2020, the council voted to transition its financial reporting system to OpenGov, a software system that bills itself as powering “more effective and accountable government.” The town stopped using its previous system in the first half of 2021, and since then councilors have said it’s been difficult to receive certain information regarding the town’s financial transactions. The OpenGov system is still not fully implemented.
Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron, who was unable to attend the council’s monthly 7:30 a.m. meetings because of scheduling conflicts, opened the 8 a.m. meeting April 18 by telling councilors that she shares their frustration with the implementation of OpenGov, which was hampered by “unexpected, time-consuming challenges.”
Councilor Josh Garrett agreed that the slow switch to OpenGov has been disconcerting, but he said he is most troubled by the town terminating the previous system without knowing when the new one would be available.
“I think that’s probably the biggest cause of frustration here, not the delay in implementation, but not having the old system as a way to provide at least some information during that bridge period,” Garrett said.
Styron acknowledged that her administration made mistakes, such as not going through an RFP process and more thoroughly researching OpenGov and the status of its software, in switching to the new system
“I wish that we had done more of that,” Styron said. “I relied on our former CFO to have gone through a process of evaluating other systems. She had worked with this product in a different community, and from the information I had gotten from that other community, it was working well. That wasn’t enough. That is something I feel personally responsible for in terms of not asking for a more comprehensive, extensive search, and I regret that.”
In 2020, the town paid a one-time fee of $148,000 to install OpenGov and its first $69,550 annual fee for the services as part of a five-year contract. When questioned by Councilor Josh Garrett, Styron said she did not know if the town was paying the full amount since the system is not fully operational but said she would find out.
Styron said that OpenGov has been “a great tool” in the town’s permitting process but that Zionsville is one of the platform’s first municipal clients for financial reporting.
“We’re apparently an early access partner of this product, meaning they’re developing it as we go along,” Styron said. “That’s part of the problem that we’re experiencing. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have clear ideas of exactly when the product is fully implemented.”
Styron said the transition hasn’t hampered the town’s ability to operate or pay bills but the ability to report on those transactions has been affected. She said she is confident that the data, which has started to recently become available, is accurate, although Councilor Bryan Traylor disagreed, citing an error in the payroll fund showing a negative balance of more than $600,000.
The council and mayor plan to hold an executive session, which is not open to the public, to discuss matters Sytron said she couldn’t legally address publicly, such as performance metrics and deliverables. She said she hopes to know “in the not-to-distant future” if OpenGov is a long-term solution for financial reporting or if the town should consider other options.
Officials from OpenGov did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
At the end of the meeting, the council decided to permanently change the time of its morning meetings to 8 a.m.