DeKalb’s Website Transparency Mystery Solved

Just in time for Sunshine Week, I’ve re-scored the City of DeKalb’s website transparency score from scratch.

Does it come anywhere near the Illinois Policy Institute’s score of 88.1 points? No.

But at least I have found out why. Check out the scoring rubric, here. This is the one I used both in December 2010 and yesterday, but it’s been unhooked from the main scoring page. You can see that six of the 10 categories originally required documents to be searchable for full credit, but this requirement eventually got dropped in favor of simply encouraging the posting of more documents online.

Without further ado:

[table id=69 /]

The City of DeKalb has added a great amount of information since 2010 — 25+ points worth. Obviously, there was a genuine effort to improve the score. If I, like IPI, had dropped the requirement for the information to be searchable, the city would indeed have scored almost identically in the high “B” range.

Confession Time
I see now that I accidentally dropped the search-ability requirement myself in the first go-round of scoring the budget and CAFR postings. The 2010 total score, then, should have been 40 points, not 44.

Also, I was in error to claim in my last post that lobbyist information was still missing from the site. When I went back to do the actual scoring, I found it is not only there, but is presented perfectly with a summary and links to the actual resolutions and contracts.

I regret the errors.

Real Life
While DeKalb has improved its website, it’s still rates a “D+” in my grade book, and I do not anticipate personally dropping the requirement for financial documents to be both posted and searchable. Citizen watchdogs need both.

The case of the alderman who obtained secret city contracts is a good example. Finding out how much he was paid necessitated a search of three years’ worth of 40-page monthly check registers, something that can be done on a city computer in less than a minute; but this database feature has never been available to you and me directly. Plus, the necessity of submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information that was not available online was a tip-off to administrators, enabling them to get in front of the story, frame it the way they wanted and who knows what else.

So even if we accept a grade of “B” for website transparency, it is still not an ideal situation for accountability — notwithstanding recent attempts to position DeKalb as the transparency capital of the world.

What’s Next
One thing that could move DeKalb and other Illinois communities closer to the ideal is a new law exemplified by HB 1322, which amends Illinois’ Local Records Act. The proposed changes include the additions of searchable revenue and expenditure databases to government websites.

This bill is supported by IPI, in fact I hear that Brian Costin, IPI’s Director of Government Reform, has done a great deal to get it introduced and to find co-sponsors. In other words, the same folks who felt they had to lower the bar on website scoring are now working to raise it up — a lot — and put the force of law behind it.

Asking my state representative to consider co-sponsoring HB 1322 is another action I’m taking to recognize Sunshine Week and I encourage you to do so, too.