The Illinois Policy Institute recently re-tested government website transparency in DuPage County’s York Township and released results last week.
Dubbed “The Local Transparency Project,” grades are based on the availability to the public of vital community information such as public meeting schedules, government employee salaries and tax rates. Since the project was launched by the Institute in February 2010, more than 160 government entities have been graded.
The government entities that scored above 80 percent were: DuPage County, Elmhurst School District 205, DuPage High School District 88 and the municipalities of Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Downers Grove and Lombard. The village of Lombard, in fact, maintained a score of 100 percent that initially awarded in May 2012.
Almost all of the websites gained points the second time around, and the top sites made such improvement as to suggest conscious responses to the first test.
And it’s not just about uploading content, but organizing it in such a way that it is easy to find.
The Village of Lombard website is tops for several reasons. Redundancy is one. For example, you can get to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) information and forms from both the “How Do I…?” menu on the front page, and via the “Online Forms by Department” menu. An “A-Z” index is also available, which is how I found out the village offers extra goodies for residents, such as a directory of local contractors who meet village requirements for insurance and so on.
Lombard started out in “C” territory and worked its way to an “A” by embracing the Transparency Checklist and formulating a Website Transparency Policy based on its guidelines.
DuPage County rated a “B” in website transparency this go-around. Its website is a favorite of mine — appearing here on the Open Books page for a couple of years — because transparency is part of a demonstrated public commitment to ethics.
What About Us?
DeKalb rates a solid “F” for its website using the same IPI test. The main problem is lack of lobbyist, FOIA officer, tax and contract information; plus everyday expenditures are hard to find and unsearchable.
Even if all of the above information were uploaded today, however, there’s still plenty to do in the area of functionality. The site should run OK even if your browser is something other than IE, but it doesn’t. Upcoming meetings should appear on the front page and link to the calendar, while calendar information would ideally link to agendas. FOIA needs its own link on the front page. We could use a site map or index, and perhaps a staff directory. Relevant links should be included on department pages — yes, even if they also appear elsewhere on the site — and the downloads page needs reorganization.
Perhaps an ad hoc committee of DeKalb website users could generate specific recommendations along with a draft proposal for a website transparency policy of our own.