Earlier this week, government transparency advocate Sunshine Review relaunched its website, which not only grades the websites of state and local governments but also provides a social media platform for citizens, activists and others. The nonprofit organization has examined over 6,000 websites to see whether they contain “features that citizens in any part of the United States should be able to find when they visit the websites of counties, cities, school districts, and state agencies.” Users can also use the site to find out information about the salaries of public officials, Freedom of Information requests and link to political wikis including Judgepedia and Ballotpedia.
The Review examines websites and looks for the following “transparency checklist” items to determine letter grades:
Open meeting laws: should include notices about public meetings of its governing board, and minutes of past meetings.
Elected officials: should include names of elected officials, and their contact information, including email addresses.
Administrative Officials should be listed on government websites.
Building permits and zoning: At the very least applications should be available to be downloaded online.
Audits: The website should include regular an audit information including: report results, audit schedules and performance audits for government programs.
Contracts: The website should include rules governing contracts posted online; including bids and contracts for purchases over $10,000 and the vendor’s campaign contributions posted with contract.
Lobbying: If the unit of government belongs to any taxpayer-funded lobbying associations that it helps to fund by paying association or membership dues, that information should be disclosed
Public records: The website should include the name of the person who is in charge of fulfilling open records requests, along with contact information for that person.
Taxes: The website should include a central location for all tax information.
(for more about the methods, click here).
So, how did your state do? Pennsylvania, NAC’s home, got an A+ for its state website, but counties received an F grade. My home state, Massachusetts, also received an A+ for state transparency but an F for counties. Counties received poor or failing grades in most states, and school districts have a lot of work to do, too. Anyone know a county that’s set a good example for the rest of the nation?