Thorner: Hold local officials accountable by demanding more transparency

September 16, 2013

Thorner

By Nancy Thorner – 

Illinois Policy Institute holds periodic telephone conference calls open to the public in which staff members are featured and interact with participants.  Last Wednesday, the Institute’s Director of Government Reform Brian Costin used the opportunity to discuss The Institute’s Transparency Project.

Their “Ten-Point Transparency List” serves as a government watchdog and provides a framework for both legislators and citizens to use to improve local government transparency and accountability.  On the checklist is information to help citizens become active participants in their communities and gather information on spending and taxes, and submitting Freedom Of Information Act queries.  Since 2010, more than 200 local government agencies have been assessed according to The Institute’s guidelines.

On September 11th’s conference call, Costin pointed out several surprising discoveries about local governments throughout Illinois:
  • Illinois has 6,968 local government — more than 2,000 more local government agencies than any other state.
  • Before audits are made public, input is given by phone, or by visiting the government agency, with information shared about how to improve websites.
  • Audits were done of all 102 Illinois counties.  Out of 100 counties:  22 counties didn’t have websites; 90 county-level governments failed the 10-Point Transparency Checklist; only 12 counties received a passing score of 60 or better; only three counties scored a 90% or higher; 12 counties violated the Open Meetings Act; and 27 counties failed to post complete instructions on how to file a FOIA request.  Considering that the average budget is $8 million, even for the smallest counties, it is amazing that a website has not been built.
  • By far, the biggest demand by citizens is how much public employees make.  Although eating up most of the budget, it is information most hidden from the view of Illinois citizens, scoring as the lowest category.  With an average score of only 0.5 out of a possible 10 points, 99 counties, including Chicago, received falling grades in the compensation category.  At the other end of the scale, Rock Island County has found on line and Will and Kane counties both received perfect scores.
  • HB3312 is a comprehensive online local government transparency bill modeled off the Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.  It requires taxing bodies of more than $1 million to post on their websites financial and contract information they already collect, so  taxpayers can easily view it.  In the Senate the bill is 3372 and is sponsored by state Sen. Dan Duffy (R) from Lake Barrington.
  • Planned future projects for audits using the 10-Point Transparency List:  1)  The top 100 municipalities not to be below 25,000 in population.  2)  The 100 top school district by enrollment size in the state.
  • There have been occasions when government officials have inquired what they must do to obtain a higher score in an audit.
  • For consideration, might a transparency audit score be low because of corruption or might ignorance be the reason?  Scores are higher in categories where states have imposed requirements.
To get involved by adopting a district for your own local transparency project, contact Brian Costin, Director of Outreach, at BCostin@illinoispolicy.org.

Monday, September 16, 2013 at 07:00 AM | Permalink

 

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