About the City of DeKalb’s Website Transparency Award

*As promised, I’ve continued pursuing the mystery of last month’s awarding of the Illinois Policy Institute’s website transparency award. Here’s an update.*

I’ve been in communication with Brian Costin, director of the Local Transparency Project at the Illinois Policy Institute, about the award for website transparency he gave last month to the City of DeKalb.

The issue is the score of 88.1 given by IPI. It shocked me because I’d used the same test in the past and scored the city at 44 points, a most definite “F.”

This week I found the time to go back to the website to see what had been added and otherwise improved. A couple more years of agendas and minutes have been placed there, plus a listing of employee compensation that is now required by the state.

The additions of historical documentation should not be minimized, but they still do not improve the score to more than “D” territory. Still missing are tax, vendor contract and lobbyist information, along with fully functional search capabilities of any of these documents.

The search function doesn’t help: “lobbyist” plus “contract” brought up some old DSATS meeting minutes.

Check registers are particularly peeving. If you have never been to the City of DeKalb website, please go there now and find the check registers. I guarantee they are there. I am equally confident that it will take some time to find them unless you know in advance where they are located. They are also not searchable.

If the City of DeKalb has claimed credit for registers, contracts and other documents because they are buried in 200- and 300-page agenda packets, it has led to truly misleading results.

Why are these things important? Here’s an example: If check registers and contracts were easily found and searchable online, I would have been able to confirm that city contracts were secretly awarded to a city council member in a fraction of the time it took me. Better yet, they very well might have been discussed and decided upon openly in the first place, because secrecy would have been out of the question.

It is unclear how these discussions with Mr. Costin will conclude, because this is the only time I’ve ever disagreed with a score.

One thing I do know is that the city can do better. If you explore City Barbs under the “transparency” tag, you’ll find examples of compliments paid to high-scoring, superbly organized government websites – including accolades for our own county, which actually did the work to earn them.

Full disclosure: I have cross-posted this article to the Lynn Fazekas campaign Facebook page.