Website Transparency Standouts

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. Continue reading Website Transparency Standouts

Rockford Rejects Collection of Fee for Electrical Aggregation

Rockford Register Star asked the question: When it comes to municipal electrical aggregation, what’s in it for the city?

City brokers deal with other municipalities, lands nearly $20 million in savings for area customers, hands over thousands of accounts and gets nothing in return?

Rockford’s Central Services Manager Carrie Eklund says that’s exactly what the city did when it decided to waive an administrative fee, a small amount that would be added onto everyone’s bill and funneled back to the city.

The state’s new electrical aggregation law allows cities to do it, Eklund said, and some have. But not Rockford.

“We are getting no compensation from this whatsoever,” she said. “The option was there, and we chose not to use it. We wanted to pass along all of the savings to our residents and small businesses.”

“Fee?” We need to get our terms straight. Continue reading Rockford Rejects Collection of Fee for Electrical Aggregation

Winnebago Forest Preserve Power Struggle Continues

In a continuation of this story, Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson has created and staffed a public safety job without the approval — and indeed in defiance of — a majority of the board.

And, it appears the move might even be legal:

Olson’s authorization of the hire is a rare move in the forest preserve district, but the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act appears to give him the power to do so: “The president of (the forest preserve board) shall have power to appoint such employees as may be necessary.”

That appears to conflict with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve’s bylaws, which says the president can make appointments “subject to confirmation by the board.” The board’s attorney has advised commissioners that state statutes trump local rules, Kalousek said.

Olson’s plan is an alternative to contracting with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s police for protection in the preserves. The problems, according to a memo written by four members of the board, are that Olson failed to make a case for his actions to the rest of the board, and that he improperly used a closed session meeting to try to get other board members to go along them.

The board could remove Olson as president, but would need to pick up a fifth vote to do so.

Winnebago Forest Preserve Board Smacks Down Perceived Abuses by Its President

Four Winnebago Forest Preserve Board commissioners — a majority — are accusing the board president of misusing a closed session meeting in an attempt to create a new position. Chuck Sweeney examines the letter the commissioners sent to board president Randy Olson:

First, it says, “We believe the Board was placed in jeopardy by using ‘closed session’ to discuss the public safety coordinator; a matter other than that for which the meeting was closed. State law is very well defined on this; and if it were shared with staff and public it would most certainly be viewed as an abuse of closed session. It is in the best interest of the Board, as well as the public, to follow state law regarding closed sessions.”

See? Some boards do understand the Open Meetings Act and are willing to fight for it. Continue reading Winnebago Forest Preserve Board Smacks Down Perceived Abuses by Its President

Lyons Township and the Very Large Accrued Leave Payout

Apparently this became a story when an employee of the Better Government Association looked up a salary at Open the Books, an online database of Illinois public employee and government financial information. Open the Books is a project of For the Good of Illinois, a good-government organization founded by former gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski. Vive la transperance!

Anywhoo, the Lyons Township Schools Treasurer’s Office “invests funds and manages payroll for 13 school districts and educational cooperatives in La Grange, Western Springs and Burr Ridge, as well as other towns,” explains the Sun Times.

The office is run by Treasurer Robert Healy. It has come to light that Mr. Healy took it upon himself to cash out his accumulated paid leave, and the total paid to himself came to more than $100,000.

The sum, along with Mr. Healy’s failure to inform the board of the payment, reportedly upset Edward Maloney, the president of the three-member board of trustees that oversees Mr. Healy’s office. Maloney, who coincidentally is running for a judgeship in Cook County, has since resigned “to allow for an independent investigation” of the cash-out that will determine whether Healy was entitled to such an accrual and whether he computed the total accurately.

“I don’t know if he did anything wrong or not,” Maloney said. “I felt very upset he did this without telling us. We don’t know if the hours he turned in were justified or not and what scale is he paying himself at. Were there vacation days earned in 2007 paid at a 2011 rate?”

I believe the answer to that would be, “DUH.” Continue reading Lyons Township and the Very Large Accrued Leave Payout

Hat Tip to the City of DeKalb

I meant to say something sooner but have been distracted by personal events this week.

Last week a candidates’ forum was held at the DeKalb Municipal Building and it was televised — a first on both counts, I think.

Though involved as a member of the board of the new League of Women Voters of DeKalb County, I was not the one to set up the venue but I heard Mayor Povlsen and city manager Mark Biernacki quickly signed on to the idea.

I did have the pleasure to find Public Works director T.J. Moore enthusiastic for sharing information about municipal electrical aggregation and careful to make clear his responsibility to present it in a neutral, objective manner.

Jeff Birtell from IT stayed late to broadcast the event.

It was all very professionally done and a terrific use of our public facilities.

Thanks, City of DeKalb.

The Case for a Graduated Income Tax in Illinois

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability just released a report called “The Case for Creating a Graduated Income Tax in Illinois” (PDF).

Changing from a flat tax to a graduated state income tax structure would take an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. Now would be a good time to ask state representatives/candidates if they would support such an amendment.

New Bill Would Require Local Governments in Illinois to Place More Documents Online

Illinois Sen. Dan Duffy has filed this month SB3392, a bill that would require local governments with websites to post much more than many currently do.

New requirements under the proposed legislation include putting online information regarding employee compensation, bids and contracts, which are documents typically sought under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Systematic uploading of documents eliminates the need for citizens and organizations to submit FOIA requests to obtain them.

The proposed legislation would essentially codify the 10-Point Transparency Checklist for government websites developed by the Illinois Policy Institute and lauded by the Sunlight Foundation.

The new rules would apply only to local governments with websites and full-time staff to maintain them.

Supporters of the new bill are looking for additional co-sponsors. Please consider asking your state representatives to sign on to SB3392.

DeKalb Threat Data by Neighborhood

A member of the City of DeKalb’s Safe/Quality Housing Task Force recently offered me copies of the crime data the group has been poring over this summer — but only if I promised not to publish it, because it’s not for public consumption!

Perhaps we should be training these committees, commissions and whatnot in the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act before setting them loose. (This is assuming the claim was merely ignorant and not the behavior of a pompous blowhard doing the Superior Strut.)

At any rate, under FOIA I’ve easily obtained the very same documents. Continue reading DeKalb Threat Data by Neighborhood

Town Hall Next Week at Conexion Comunidad

Third Ward Alderman Kristen Lash will hold a town hall meeting next Wednesday, August 31.

So far, participants are:

Kristen Lash, 3rd Ward Alderman
Jim Luebke, DeKalb Township Trustee
Paul Stoddard, County Board, District 9
Julia Fauci, County Board, District 9

Alderman Lash hopes also to include a representative of the District 428 school board.

The town hall will begin with each official giving a brief update of the happenings at his/her unit of government. A public question-and-comment period follows, during which audience members may address an individual or the entire panel.

Conexion Comunidad is at 637 N. 11th Street. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.