University of Chicago

The History of MuniNet Guide

Introduced in March 1997 as a subscription-based, monthly print newsletter, MuniNet Guide & Review was originally designed to help state and local governments and the municipal finance community navigate the then-uncharted territory of the Internet. Its early focus was on guiding users to relevant, reputable online resources, as well as highlighting elements of a quality municipal or government-related website.

The website was launched in late 1999, at which time it became available to the public free of charge. Its tagline, “your hub for municipal-related research” guided its evolution over the next 20+ years, as it became a valuable resource for an increasingly wider audience, including citizens, students, researchers and other civic-minded groups and individuals.

With a heavy accent on municipal finance, MuniNet Guide provided cutting-edge, difficult-to-locate articles and commentary on the municipal bond market, state and local government issuers, fiscal distress, public pensions and municipal bankruptcy.

Blazing the Online Trails

When Chicago-based Richard Ciccarone, a long time nationally recognized and award-winning municipal bond expert, analyst and municipal bond credit data pioneer, recognized the need for a resource to bridge the transition to the “information superhighway,” he took action.

Along with Mardee (Alvaro) Handler, who remained MuniNet Guide’s managing editor through 2015, Ciccarone spent a full year in research and development before the first newsletter hit the press. They visited hundreds of websites, from big cities to small towns, professional organizations to grass roots local civic groups, looking for exemplary content, features and tools for citizens and municipal-minded professionals. The inaugural issue of MuniNet Guide & Review included 18 website reviews, along with several articles intended to guide relative newcomers through their online municipal travels.

MuniNet Guide & Review was an early pioneer in developing recommendations and guidelines for state and local governments and related entities as they hopped aboard the Internet bandwagon, developing first-generation websites for citizens and investors. Encouraging content that viewed as necessary and desirable, MuniNet Guide was among the first to advocate investor relations pages for municipal bond borrows, acknowledged by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, among others, in the mid-2000s. Its annual “Top Picks” awards were well received, and winners proudly displayed the MuniNet Guide & Review award badge on their websites.

During its first several years, MuniNet Guide also published a spiralbound directory of hundreds — quickly growing to thousands — of links to municipal and related websites which were all incorporated into a searchable database on its website, which continued to grow exponentially every year. Because it was manually compiled from a variety of resources through the years, it was believed to be the most comprehensive and relevant database of its kind.

A Hub for Municipal-Related Research

MuniNet Guide’s content and data provided wide-ranging, in-depth information about U.S. states, counties, cities, towns, villages and districts, spotlighting key demographics, employment trends, infrastructure and municipal bonds, highlighting topics that either directly or indirectly impacted the fiscal health of state and local governments and agencies.

The website included a weekly municipal bond calendar, which included links to issuers’ websites and where available, investor relations pages. It engaged visitors with its monthly “Know Your Cities” contest and shared a plethora of leading industry experts’ insights through Handler’s interviews with sources from academia, think tanks, non-profit organizations and other prominent voices in municipal finance. With an intentional focus on timely and cutting-edge industry developments, MuniNet Guide provided updates and commentary related to municipal bond disclosure, the timeliness of municipal bond audits, municipal bond defaults, fiscal stress and more.

Ciccarone, a recipient of more than 20 awards, distinctions and lifetime achievement recognition from an array of municipal bond, civic organizations and industry related media, contributed countless articles for MuniNet Guide focusing on the fabric of U.S. communities, their economies and infrastructure. As the manager of the municipal research departments at several national investment firms spanning four decades, as well as an active participant in local civic affairs, he was in the unique position to address a variety of topics related to municipal finance and bonds, including the factors that impact economic and fiscal sustainability.

Renowned municipal bankruptcy attorney James Spiotto joined MuniNet Guide as a contributing partner after his retirement from Chapman & Cutler LLP in 2013. Spiotto, who was instrumental in rewriting federal and state guidelines on Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection and a frequent witness in high-profile municipal bankruptcy proceedings, published a host of articles, opinions and testimonies on MuniNet Guide before his untimely passing in early 2020. 

Together, Ciccarone and Spiotto offered unprecedented industry expertise to MuniNet Guide.

Since the day of its inception, MuniNet Guide remained firmly committed to providing the highest quality data, research and commentary not only to the municipal finance community, but also to everyone with an interest in municipal-related matters. While MuniNet Guide evolved throughout its years, it was consistent in its efforts to guide visitors to innovative municipal programs and website features, to highlight noteworthy trends in municipal finance and to increase the overall transparency of the municipal bond market.

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