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: Continue reading DeKalb’s Website Transparency Mystery Solved

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.” Continue reading About the City of DeKalb’s Website Transparency Award

There is no “r” in Fazekas

I want to offer a few words on my write-in candidacy for DeKalb City Clerk so it doesn’t get weird between us. I filed last Thursday, aware by that point of one other person who might be running and found out later that we are four.

A public statement of candidacy and a Facebook page are planned, and I’ll let you know when they are available.

Outside of those things I am still working out what’s fair to post here during the campaign. Of course I have opinions, strong ones, on the so-called “neutering” of the city clerk’s position, on Kapitan’s candidacy and about the mayoral candidates, but I don’t know that City Barbs will cover any of these topics directly between now and April 9.

One matter we will explore soon for sure is the City of DeKalb’s improved website. You may be aware that the City of DeKalb recently passed, in the “B” range, the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency test for its online postings even though it’s gotten an “F” from me on the same test in the past. The good folks at IPI are waiting for me to rate the site again; it will be a good test not only of the site but of the IPI scoring system as well. The matter is on my list in ink and I hope to get to it sometime this week.

A Visit to DeKalb County’s New Website

DeKalb County put its new website online this week.

The county says the overhaul was not made in response to the Illinois Policy Institute’s recent grade of D-, but has been in the works for about a year.

DeKalb County has put lots online for quite some time, but finding it or even getting a real sense of what all is there could be a problem. Continue reading A Visit to DeKalb County’s New Website

Winnebago Forest Preserve District Eliminates Public Safety Job

***Update 1:30 p.m.: Their lips say no, but the timing feels like there’s some piling on.***

**Update 9:45 a.m.: Here’s the latest put up by RRStar. I do NOT agree that WCFPD has a credibility problem (stated at the end of the article). Instead, I’d argue that any credibility problem is Randy Olson’s alone at this point and that WCFPD made all the right moves to set right a trust-busting situation that Olson created.**

To summarize: Former Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson created and staffed a new public safety job even though the majority of the commission disapproved of his decisions.

Here is what the other commissioners did about it:

It took some time — and for Olson to actually make the hire — for the board to pick up the additional vote it needed to demote him. The fifth commissioner professed herself a good friend of his but busted him anyway. (Olson still serves, just not as president. It will be interesting to see what the voters say if he runs again.)

Well done, #wcfpd!

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

Call the Wa-a-a-mbulance for Belvidere Township

WATB alert!

BELVIDERE — Belvidere Township’s legal fees have skyrocketed 383 percent from five years ago.

The township has been scrutinized for months with residents filing lengthy Freedom of Information Act requests and writing memos that require legal responses. People have questioned the township’s budget, public comment process and whether the government body should even exist.

Township Supervisor Patrick Murphy said his board has now asked [contracted township attorney Keri-Lyn] Krafthefer to attend each township meeting. He said officials are being “picked on” and must consult an attorney before taking any action.

City of DeKalb administrations also depend on lawyers to guide their every move at meetings and to keep the public out of their beeswax, but you don’t hear them crying about it! Continue reading Call the Wa-a-a-mbulance for Belvidere Township

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

The FY2011 Central Area TIF Report

…can be found here (It’s a 64-page PDF so give it a minute to load).

As an incorrigible repeat offender I could not stop myself from submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the following information:

1. The breakdown of the transfers so we can tell how much is going to the General Fund and how much is going to Debt Service. As you can see below, they used to break it down:

[table id=50 /]

I tried to look it up using the city budgets, but the numbers there do not add up to the sum stated in the TIF report. It might be important. Especially nowadays with EAV falling and with half of the property and sales tax increments being paid out to all the overlapping local governments as surplus, we need to keep an eye that the city can still cover its debt service payments as well. Combining the transfers as they did for FY2011, so that you can no longer tell where they went at a glance, is a step backward in transparency anyhow.

2. The reason why Joint Review Board annual meeting minutes are not routinely submitted.

3. The reason why DeKalb’s CEO doesn’t do the required CEO compliance certification.

Bonus table: Central Area TIF state and local sales tax increments:

[table id=51 /]

The sales tax increments pretty much mirror what has happened in DeKalb overall: taxable sales plunged by tens of millions in 2008-9 and have not yet climbed back to pre-crisis levels.

Sales and use taxes also make up 40% of the revenues in DeKalb’s General Fund budget. DeKalb is hoping to collect $12 million in sales and use taxes during the current fiscal year, 2012, which ends June 30.

Additional sources: City of DeKalb’s FY2012 Adopted Budget (PDF pp. 120-124) and FY2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (PDF pp. 211-214).

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.