DeKalb County was recently awarded a D- for online transparency by the Illinois Policy Institute. It seems like a pretty lame grade, until you learn that DeKalb is one of only seven (out of 26) northern Illinois counties that received a grade higher than an F, according to the Daily Chronicle.
It would appear that DeKalb County is among the best of the worst.
This near-failure designation shouldn’t necessarily signal an inexcusable, irreversible deficiency.
Instead, it should be a wake-up call for governments, residents and the media to work together to determine priorities.
Technology advancements have changed transparency forever. We never will return to an era when information is hard to find. It is, however, taking more time for some entities to catch up with the demands of not just residents, but independent organizations that assume the responsibility of playing watchdog.
Now there is an expectation of nearly unlimited transparency, so much so that everyone isn’t necessarily on the same page.
Although independent organizations might be calling for more openness, governments may not have the resources to fulfill the expectations.
And while residents recognize the concept of transparency as beneficial, they might not know exactly how to use the information best. The amount of information available can also become overwhelming.
I’ve written about this before, information is good. But we easily can become staggered when presented with too much.
Government entities are being pushed to make more and more information publicly available, but it can be hard to prioritize information that doesn’t often get used.
Now would be the time for everyone to decide what their preferences are when it comes to government transparency.
The lack of coordination proves that taxpayers aren’t making their needs clear, which makes it hard for governments to meet those needs, which makes it easy for an independent organization to award a bad grade to a community.
Residents must ask themselves: What do I want to know? What information is useful to me and where should I be able to find it?
Make it clear what we want from transparency. Residents should tell the government. They should file FOIA requests for information that isn’t readily available. If residents can engage government officials in a nonconfrontational conversation about what information they would find most useful and interesting, we can start to build a comprehensive expectation that is easier to comply with than what we have now.
A D-minus grade obviously isn’t good. But in this period of transition, it doesn’t necessarily signal a one-sided failure. If everyone works together to create a more useful transparency system, maybe we can share the esteem that comes with an A+.
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Additionally: I became aware of another career counseling service here in DeKalb County after my column about job searching was published last week.
Anyone still looking for a job in the area should check out Illinois workNet Center, a partnership between Kishwaukee College and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Elaine Cozort is the program coordinator of the Illinois workNet Center, and she contacted me with some information after last week’s column. Illinois workNet has a location at 1701 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb and has a comprehensive website (illinoisworknet.com) for job-seekers and businesses.
• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.