2 of 24 southern Ill. counties receive top marks in government transparency audits | News
(KFVS) - The most recent series of online government transparency audits from the Illinois Policy Institute shows that Union and Madison counties have earned top scores, while 22 other southern Illinois counties received low marks.
The Illinois Policy Institute grades governments on how much public data is readily available on government websites. 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 250 government entities have been graded.
In the southern Illinois area, websites for 14 government entities were graded. Twelve counties did not have websites and therefore weren’t graded.
According to the institute, Madison County received the only passing grade in the audit, with a grade of 73.8 out of a possible 100 points. They say Union County showed the largest improvement over the course of the three-month project. Initially, Union County did not have a website, but along with the launch of a new website the county utilized many of the principles outlined in the institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.
“We at Union County applaud the efforts of the Illinois Policy Institute to shine light on government practice.” said Darren Bailey, Union County Treasurer. “With the current environment of government in Illinois so overcast and gloomy, it is vital that we have programs like the [Institute's] Local Transparency Project breaking up the clouds. The Institute’s engagement with Union County enhanced our own efforts, leading to an increase of easily accessible information and a plan for increased openness in the future.”
Union County’s score increased from a zero to 52.4 points out of a possible 100. Even more improvements are planned for the future.
“The pro-transparency efforts of Madison and Union Counties should be applauded.” said Brian Costin, director of government reform at the Illinois Policy Institute. “Proactive online transparency is one of the most important tools local government agencies have to be accountable to taxpayers and to help prevent public corruption before it starts.”
According to the institute, 12 southern Illinois counties don’t have websites, and 13 out of 14 southern Illinois county governments with websites received failing grades. They say many of these low marks were due to not having information such as meeting notices, salary schedules and other vital community information readily available online.
The 13 counties who failed the transparency audit are:
- St. Clair
The counties of Alexander, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Massac, Perry, Pope, Saline, Wabash, Wayne and Williamson did not have official websites and therefore were not included in the audit.
The Institute's audit also revealed that many county governments do not appear to be compliant with state transparency standards as set by the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act.
The state requires all taxing bodies with websites to post basic information online, including purpose of agency, size, number of part-time and full-time employees, FOIA filing process, calendar of meetings, agendas and minutes. The institute says only two out of 14 counties were compliant with the state website posting requirements of both FOIA and OMA, Madison and Union Counties. Two counties were compliant with OMA, but not FOIA: St. Clair and Monroe Counties. The 10 other counties were non-compliant with both FOIA and OMA laws.
“With Illinois' history of corruption, no one in this state should be resisting improving transparency efforts,” Costin said. “Unfortunately, it’s not just the Institute's suggestions that these counties are failing to live up to; many are failing to comply with basic state laws. Taxpayers should demand for more transparency from their elected officials.”
Southern Illinois counties performed particularly poorly in the budgets, expenditures, employee salary and benefits, contracts and lobbying categories by scoring on average less than one out of a possible ten points.
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