The first task was to select a grading system. The Sunshine Review Transparency Checklist seemed like a good place to start, but its City Websites wiki page lists criteria that are different from the checklist used for rankings and awards. It was confusing, and left the impression that check registers and ethics were casualties of a list determined to remain at 10 and only 10 items no matter what.

The Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist was developed in consultation with Sunshine Review so checklist items, rationales and examples are quite similar, but there is greater consistency of information across pages. IPI additionally employs a scoring rubric based on a possible 100 points, which makes the obsession with 10 a bit more understandable. It also generates greater confidence that two audits of the same website at the same point in time would score pretty much the same. IPI also forgoes ethics policy posting requirements, but did manage to save check register criteria by consolidating the elected officials with the administrative.

Without further ado:

Transparency ItemNo. of points out of 10 Explanation of Score
Total44Grade of F
Elected & administrative officials: contact info10.0
Meeting information: future meetings, past packets4.9Earn more points by including more than 2 years' worth & fully searchable packets.
FOIA records: submission, contact info9.0City Clerk’s page should expressly state he is FOIA officer.
Budgets: general fund & special projects8.04 of the last 5 budgets are posted.
Audits: CAFRs10.05 years of CAFRs are posted.
Expenditures: check register, credit card receipts1.4Only 2 of last 5 years’ worth are available & must be dug out of individual agenda packets. 3rd party annual expenditures are similarly difficult to locate.
Salaries and benefits0Individual compensation info is not available.
Contracts: union, private contractors, vendors.7Current requests of bids & proposals, approved vendor contracts are not available. Only the most current employee contracts are available. Docs are not searchable.
Lobbying: Taxpayer-funded contracts, association memberships0
Taxes & Fees0Disclosure must occur on one central page of the site.

IPI penalizes non-searchable documents by 30%. DeKalb’s searchable documentation includes agendas and much of the agenda packet nowadays, such as meeting minutes (all city and DSATS), budgets, audits and the check register. This is a huge improvement.

In another area, however, we’ve suffered a significant loss. We used to have access to agendas and meeting minutes back to 2002 but now with the new and not-so-much improved website you can’t access them online further back than 2009 (even though they do show up on the search list). What this means in practical terms is that I might be able to plug, say, “Masonry Works” or “Vendor 3104″ into the website search function but will only find one payment to that vendor because all the others were made in 2008.

Of course, the documents we probably need to look at most urgently are the items with the zeroes.

I will save a posting of recommendations for another day, in case one or more of you put some good ones in comments for me to steal. ;)