According to a report released Thursday by the Illinois Policy Institute, 90 out of the 102 Illinois county governments failed an online transparency audit.
It would be easy to focus on the failure of most counties, but let’s also look at some places that are promoting online transparency.
“The important thing for me is to put meaningful information on our website that ordinary people can understand,” said DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan. “It’s not just enough to dump data on the website. It has to be easy for people to interpret and read.”
For example, Grogan placed the county’s entire checkbook online for the public to inspect.
“Now instead of having just six people in my office inspecting expenditures, I have 1.6 million (potential) people looking at them. I can’t stress enough how much of a deterrent this is to questionable expenses being submitted by employees. Now it’s not just their supervisor who knows, but it’s their neighbors and relatives.”
Grogan said he will announce in July that he will be seeking the Republican nomination for state treasurer.
Another prospective statewide candidate is Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state Comptroller. Blackburn has also made online transparency a major priority.
“The motto in my office is accountability plus transparency equals good government,” he said. “And having all of this information online fits in quite nicely with that philosophy. I can’t stress enough how much fraud, waste and abuse this deters.”
Blackburn said before he posted Will County’s information online, he received about 10 Freedom of Information Act requests a year. Now, many Will County residents routinely peruse the website looking for information rather than file FOIAs.
“Last year we had 4,455 people visit our website. I think that shows the true level of interest out there in what is going on in county government,” he said.
Unfortunately, not all counties in Illinois have done as well as Will and DuPage counties.
The Institute’s online transparency audit of all 102 counties found some pretty abysmal practices across the Land of Lincoln.
Here are some lowlights to consider:
22 out of 102 Illinois counties do not have a website
12 counties violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to post a calendar and agendas prior to a meeting and minutes of meetings online
27 counties were in violation of the Freedom of Information Act by failing to post complete instructions on how to file a FOIA request
In four categories on the 10-Point Transparency Checklist (expenditures, compensation, contract and lobbying), more than 90 counties had failing grades
Such findings show a certain level of contempt by elected officials for those they are supposed to serve.