Transparency Checklist

It is hardly a piece of cake to be a member of the Sunlight Foundation‘s organization for state and local bloggers known as the Citizens for Open Government (COG) group. I kid you not. The number of e-mail messages can get crazy some days. Most of the group are “transparency professionals,” such as newspaper reporters and paid members of formalized goo-goo institutes, and it’s disappointing not to meet up with other regular josephines. Plus, I don’t have a lot of time for activities that do not produce direct results. I schedule a few hours a week for the cause, just as one handles any other volunteer commitment. When they solicited feedback on a new logo a couple weeks ago, it was a facepalm moment. This week they’re asking for a blogswarm of posts with the theme (roughly) “Why I Treasure Transparency” in honor of something called Sunshine Week and, as a result, I think I feel a tic beginning under my left eye.

Why stick with the COG, then, you ask? Well, beyond the fascination involved in surmising the particular degree of crankiness that would get me booted out, it’s indisputable that the Sunlight people come up with great tools for the amateur activist now and then.

One such tool is the website Transparency Checklist. The checklist allows anyone to grade governmental websites in 10 areas of openness, as follows:

1) Posting current and past budgets

2) Following open meetings criteria, including public notices of meetings and agendas

3) Posting elected officials’ contact information, including e-mail and voting records

4) Posting key administrative officials’ contact info, including e-mail

5) Allowing for constituents to download permits, submit them electronically and to follow the process online

6) Posting audit schedules and reports

7) Posting contract information including the rules for bids, current bids and contracts for purchases over $10,000, and vendors’ campaign contributions posted with each contract

8 ) Disclosing taxpayer-funded lobbying associations to which the government body pays dues

9) Identifying and providing contact information of the person responsible for fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests

10) Providing a central location for all tax- and fee-related information, including revenue sources

It’s worth paying a visit yourself for more in-depth rating information.

Volunteers have already evaluated each county in Illinois, it looks like. The DeKalb County website obtained a grade of B-. I would probably not want to give DeKalb County full credit for Board members’ contact info because almost all of them have posted private e-mail and I think that might complicate matters come FOIA-request time. Otherwise I pretty much agree with the ratings. You?

Oh, and happy Sunshine Week!