This is a case/project I give my
governmental accounting students to teach them to be more active
local citizens, more politically aware and more critical in their
analysis. This piece is a working paper that, beside giving it to
my students, I am developing into a full-blown case/student
project paper, which will also include my experiences this winter
with the students. Anyone with suggestions may contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. The case
follows as instructions to students:
I. Student Civic Activism Project
in Government Accounting
Pick a local government unit,
preferably in the district in which you are living. It can be an
educational district or a city government or even a road
authority. Write a paper on both the political issues and the city
finances that support those issues and include photocopies of all
relevant articles and documents.
II. Rationale for Activism, Learning
the Ropes in Implementing Government Accounting
Accounting professionalism means
that we give something back to our profession and our community.
Fortunately, this both feels good and it brings in new business
and job opportunities while developing new skills, which is not a
bad deal. While many of us volunteer with non-profits such as our
church, community hospital, American Red Cross, etc., the idea of
getting involved in local government leaves a lot of people
puzzled. Furthermore, while it may be unlikely for us to
successfully run for state or national government because of the
role of party politics, getting elected in a local election may
allow accountants to directly participate in local governance.
In many small school districts,
suburbs, towns and townships, accountants stand a good chance of
being elected with the respect their profession can engender in a
cost-conscious community. These entities usually follow the rules
of governmental accounting much more strictly than state and
federal governments. Almost by definition, local governments are
usually located a few miles from the homes of their citizens and,
for our purposes, students in our governmental accounting class.
Thus, these local government systems provide us with a near
perfect laboratory for our student projects. Therefore, these
projects will help us to develop our awareness and knowledge on
this semesters theme of how professional accountants can get
involved in local politics including running for election or being
appointed to various local governmental or non-profit boards.
Requiring the learning of activism
should not come as a surprise. Students (and practitioners) who
are 18 and over, already have a duty to participate in local
government. Accounting professionals have an added responsibility
to add their fiscal expertise, including this governmental
accounting course, to ensuring good local government. Student
projects, where they learn to connect with the
political process of local government and use their newfound
accounting knowledge, are essential for better government and for
strengthening the profession.
People serve on local governing
bodies for a multitude of reasons, some which serve the community
poorly. The parent that joins a local school board primarily to
advance a youngster into the local cheerleading squad and is
indifferent to any other issue is perhaps very human but unlikely
to improve the performance of related schools. Furthermore, local
governments in the US are often driven by commercial needs of
local businesses. Thus, builders and developers, who need building
and zoning exceptions, stock heavily many city governments. Boards
of localities that actively restrict liquor licensing will often
have representatives from the local taverns to either expand or
restrict new liquor businesses. Vendors of everything from
building new schools to providing legal services to municipalities
might also be represented.
Your accounting sophistication
about complex local budgets, which feature governmental accounting
information, makes you much more than ordinarily important. For
example, you have a better idea than most about when a local city
contract is being let for more money than what other vendors could
provide it for. Because accountants are busy people, they may
never find the time to do something they would find both enjoyable
In summary, this class project
will focus this semester on both learning the political ways of
your local government and understanding its budget. While many,
perhaps most, of you will not be working directly for local
governments, all of you will pay taxes for these governments and
use their services. In addition, your firms will have dealings
with local governments including auditing them, and that will
require you to both understand the politics and the accounting.
III. In your project paper,
address the following questions:
- Where is your local government
- Who are the mayor, director,
board members and operating managers of this locality?
- Who can you ask questions about
- When and where do the governing
- How do you get issues that con-
cern you on the agenda of these board meetings?
- Are all board meetings held in
pub- lic and what are the criteria for judging if some meetings
are not held in public?
- To whom would you address a
let- ter of concern to in your city?
- How would you contact the
various departments and what concerns of local citizens does
each depart- ment handle?
- What are the budgets of each
orga- nization and how do they relate to services provided?
- What and where are the
facilities of the district/municipality? Can you visually tour
these facilities, and does the operation seem to support the
costs involved in the budgets?
- Do employees' seniority rights
af- fect who works where in provid- ing direct city services? Do
the more experienced firefighters, police, teachers and other
per- sonnel choose to work in the nicer
neighborhoods leaving the professional novices to deal with
neighborhoods with more compli- cated problems? Could higher pay
or bonuses in the bad neighbor- hoods allow a better
matching of skill and responsibility in the dis- trict and
- How and where do you find the
fi- nancial budgets from your district or town?
- How and where do you find bud-
gets of districts or municipalities similar to the one you have
cho- sen to study in terms of services, size, state and other
- Is there a sunshine meetings
law in your state?
- Is there freedom of information
law in your state? What forms would you have to fill out, and
how much does it cost? Include a copy of the form, if available.
- Where do you find current and
past news stories of governmental ac- tivities and issues in
your town? What major projects have been adopted or rejected
recently? Has a recent tax increase succeeded or failed?
- Has the city been sued recently
and can you get a copy of the proceedings? Include copies of
major issues proceedings.
- How and where can you find the
minutes of the governing board? How and where can you find the
governing officials and board members?
- How and where could you report
complaints to the city or district? If you do not get
satisfaction, where could you go to get it?
- What zoning activity is going
on in your city?
- What blue laws and other
cultural, religious and social imperatives are in effect in your
city or district?
- Where can you go to find local
build- ing and other ordinances?
- Where can you find building
plans and real estate records? Do these seem complete and
support the current budget? Does the city have ecological plans
for its vari- ous projects and are these open to inspection? Can
you get these from state or national govern- ments? Include
photocopies of available documents.
- What are the various local
news- papers and alternative newspapers that cover your city?
Who are the beat reporters and could you interview them? Include
- When the governance boards
meet, do they understand the nuances of government accounting
and, if not, who explains it to them?
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