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Take a Look at an Annual Report People of All Ages Will Want to Read

Suwanee, Georgia, fights super villains and snooze-inducing financial reporting

  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Slam! Wham! Kaboom!

    This image shows the top portion of a comic book cover, yes. But as the 2016 Popular Annual Financial Report (more later about what that means) for the City of Suwanee, Georgia, it's a comic book that's both useful for number-crunchers and enjoyable by residents too young to even count to 10. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Number-Crunching With Character(s)

    A "Popular Annual Financial Report" for a community is a scaled down version of the formal, number-dense annual report that businesses, nonprofits and municipalities produce as a document and disclosure of its money matters. Since a PAFR is intended to be understood by non-accountants, staffers in Suwanee's government decided to create a report for 2016 that's both accessible and fun. Among the characters in the comic book are Suwanee's mayor and City Council members. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Enemies of the State

    And like any worthy comic book, the story features one or more dastardly villains. For the Suwanee story, the evil-doers are, from left, Main Stream (the "zealous killer of creativity"), Status Quo, ("defender of the existing state of affairs and hater of change"), Red Tape (a "master of bureaucracy and formality") and, shown in the lower right-hand corner of the image, Disinterested Cat "who clearly cares about nothing." Together they are "The League of Unextraordinary Villains!"

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Happy, Shiny City

    Located 35 miles northeast of Atlanta and established in 1817, Suwanee is home to about 20,000 people. After the city's historic downtown became little more than a passing glance along the freight rail line running through it, local leaders decided to start from scratch and create a new, planned, active, larger and more centrally located walkable downtown of shops, restaurants, public spaces, housing and more. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    A City Sings Its Praises

    For readers preferring a more traditional reporting of annual achievements, page 1 features an introductory letter from the City Manager that provides a bulleted list of more than 20 successes starting with "Refinanced outstanding bonds saving the city over $3 million" and ending with "Received $10,000 grant from Governor's Office of Highway Safety." For readers (and non-readers) seeking more fun, Suwanee's achievements are sprinkled throughout the 16-page annual report/comic book. In the scenes shown here young townspeople praise the public Wi-Fi in Town Center Park.

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Public Places and Outdoor Spaces

    Within Suwanee's 11 square-miles are numerous parks, many financed by voter-approved, bond-funded open space initiatives. The most visible park   self-described by Suwanee as its "front yard"— is the 10-acre Town Center Park, which is a destination unto itself and a connection to the four-mile-long Suwanee Creek Greenway hiking-biking trail. The 2016 report celebrates the approval of a new, larger, downtown park.

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Helping Hands

    Community volunteerism on behalf of the community isn't a detail well represented by a data point in a spreadsheet. In a comic book, the characters can talk about the work performed and the items donated. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Getting Around

    The report's storyline was crafted around the wins and information that needed to be shared, such as the fact that Suwanee is home to Gwinnett County's first bike share program. Wayfinding signage (i.e. signage with arrows and instructions about which way to go and for what) are an important but often overlooked element of creating a sense of plate. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Money Matters

    At its most basic a city's financial report is about numbers —  expenses, revenues, savings, debts. Several panels in the comic book are devoted to explaining the money minutia in a clear, colorful and creative way.  (A back page of the report contains a financial lingo glossary that can be seen at the end of this slideshow.)

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    More About Money

    For the financial figures, the comic book mini-me version of the city's finance director goes head-to-head against the villain Status Quo. He tries to frame Suwanee's money matters into a problem rather than a success that resulted in a AAA bond rating (the highest rating) from Standard & Poor's. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Cutting Red Tape

    In real life and in the Suwanee comic book, red tape (or Red Tape, seen here) can gum up the works and slow down or even stop needed change. This panel offers way the city isn't getting bogged down in bureaucracy. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    That's Entertainment

    Many suburban towns and cities don't have downtowns or destinations for getting out of the house and having fun. Having a place to go for both daily outings and big events is important for people of all ages.

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    Is Another Win in the Waiting?

    When this slideshow ends, come back to this panel or look for the link lower down on this page and go to the article "How to Create an Annual Report That People of All Ages Will Want to Read." That piece provides the story behind Suwanee's 2016 financial report and includes a link to the comic book as well as its award-winning but comparatively dull 2015 report. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    In the End Good Prevails

    The Unextraordinary League of Villains is soon captured and jailed. Disinterested Cat isn't pictured because his head literally exploded on page 9 after becoming interested in the community's activities. 

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  • Image courtesy City of Suwanee, Georgia

    What It All Means

    A reader needn't live in Suwanee or have any interest in the community to learn something from this helpful glossary. After all, how many people can truly explain or understand the meaning of "Net Investments on Capital Assets." 

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Melissa Stanton is a senior advisor for AARP Livable Communities and the editor of
Slideshow published November 2017

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