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Posted on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

EMU students develop transparent financial reports for Michigan cities

By Nathan Bomey


A team of Eastern Michigan University College of Business graduate accounting students are creating transparent financial reports under professor William LaGore (second from left). They include, from left, Mary Jones, Yijun Ren and Hisham Alhakimi.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for additional transparency and simplicity in municipal government financing morphed into a collaborative opportunity for students at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business.

A team of EMU graduate accounting students are partnering with municipalities throughout the state to create simple financial reports, boosting transparency and making it easier for residents to understand complex fiscal information.

The initiative started as a class project when accounting professor William LaGore realized his students could help cash-strapped Michigan communities by creating financial reports, fulfilling course objectives and giving students real-world experience and connections.

After a successful pilot project with communities such as Ypsilanti, Adrian and Wixom, the EMU College of Business used its academic entrepreneurship fund to allow students to continue creating reports for municipalities as a part-time job of sorts.

LaGore, who oversees the collaboration, said the project would continue next semester. He said students have worked with about 15 municipalities so far, including most recently the city of Novi and village of Birch Run.

“A lot of the governments I talked to are cutting staff. They would definitely not be able to do this on their own or even have the money to pay for it,” LaGore said. “We provide the service free of charge for them.”

The service is particularly meaningful for Michigan municipalities, which must submit a “citizens’ guide” and “performance dashboard” to qualify for a portion of state revenue sharing dollars.

Snyder and legislative Republicans created the program — which dangles dollars as an incentive to force municipalities to make reforms — as part of their general overhaul of the state’s budget earlier this year.

David Mielke, dean of EMU’s College of Business and an accounting professor, said the university’s collaboration with Michigan municipalities was an outgrowth of a meeting with state Treasurer Andy Dillon, budget director John Nixon and Richard Baird, a personal friend of the governor.

“This cooperative effort is an example of the type of partnering that can be fostered across the state,” Dillon said in a statement. “Not only can local communities benefit through transparency offered by such programs, this also provides real world learning experience for students.”

After the meeting in Lansing, EMU met with the Michigan Municipal League, which agreed to promote the service to its members.

“We really have as one of our primary goals to interact with the business community and that’s one of the strengths of the College of Business — to bring as much as we can from the real world into the classroom,” Mielke said.

Mary Jones, a graduate student who is working on the project, said the goal of the financial reports is to make it simple enough that “an everyday Joe Schmoe” can understand it.

The goal of the financial transparency reports is to show “what do we owe, what do we own,” Jones said.

Yijun Ren, another grad student who worked on the project, said the municipalities have been “really cooperative” and eager to get their reports assembled.

“The project was really empowering for us just knowing that these governments and townships were entrusting us,” said Hisham Alhakimi, another grad student who has worked on the project.

Jones said the project “gives us an advantage if we were to go into a CPA firm. We can say we have this background.”

Walter Kraft, EMU’s vice president of communications, said the project represented a great opportunity for students to contribute to the community and get real-world experience.

"You can just see the success students can have when you actually get out and work in an environment and make a difference,” he said. “They have something great to put on their resume. We’ve done something. We’re not just talking about theory in the classroom. We’re out there doing it.

“This person has a big step up over other people who come in for an interview because they have practical experience. That is a major emphasis for us as a university.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 11:54 a.m.

There is already a website that has historical transparency metrics for all 1800 local units of government in the state of Michigan, including Detroit and Ann Arbor. Check it out at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> - its free for all to see. Some communities have even loaded future years data into the system. It even goes as far as calculating a Fiscal Health Score for the community.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

This is a wonderful achievement. It is unfortunate that Ann Arbor or Detroit will never use them. Both city councils/bureaucracies do not believe in transparency.

David Cahill

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 8:32 p.m.

I hope Ann Arbor is in line for this program. It would be interesting to see how the City's accounts look with a uniform system, compared to Ypsilanti's.

Dog Guy

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

This transparency program is a no-sale in Ann Arbor. The city hall gang could not run its shell game using clear glass tumblers. (In case you don't know, the pea is under none of the shells and in the con man's pocket.)


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

With some Google work, here's a couple of the actual reports, from the cities' websites: * Adrian: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> * Wixom: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> * Ypsilanti: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> They're definitely a lot easier to read than the full city budgets, though at the cost of some level of detail. For example, the Ypsi report presents a number for &quot;General Government&quot;, without discussing what that means or how it's funded: it appears to include the building department and rental housing inspection program, which are largely funded through permit fees rather than taxes -- if you're trying to figure out where your tax dollars go, or how to deal with declining tax revenues, information like this is pretty important.

Usual Suspect

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

What good are transparent reports? Nobody uses overhead projectors anymore.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

Sounds like a win win for everyone, kudos to everyone

Jim Osborn

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

Great project! I hope that this article is updated with examples of their work, such as a close-up of what they are holding in the picture, and a better description of what is different about their reports versus what cities presently use.