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Some municipalities improve scores, website transparency

Published: Sunday, April 6, 2014 11:45 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, April 7, 2014 3:26 p.m. CST

DeKALB – Genoa-Kingston School District plans to implement the checklist of an Illinois government watchdog group after an audit showed the district’s website needs improvement.

The district will redesign its website this summer and will use the Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-point checklist to ensure information such as budgeting, finances and contacts are easy to find, said Joe Burgess, Genoa-Kingston School superintendent.

“We’re looking forward to getting a sunshine award at some point making these upgrades,” Burgess said.

About three weeks ago, the Illinois Policy Institute audited 12 local municipalities such as towns, school districts and park districts during Sunshine Week, which highlights government transparency.

The Policy Institute, a conservative nonprofit public policy research organization, recently conducted a second round of audits to give municipalities the opportunity to increase their scores.

Some of the things institute employees look for are whether websites include contact information, budgets, expenditures, contracts and lobbying details, with points possible for each year that information is posted.

Results show all but four of the municipalities were able to raise their scores, partly by communicating with the Illinois Policy Institute and showing its staff where missing information was located on the website. The Illinois Policy Institute reduces scores if information is not easily found on websites.

Lisa K. Sanderson, DeKalb County Government’s website coordinator, emailed an Illinois Policy Institute employee to ask them to credit the website for having information on meetings and public records.

According to the email, Sanderson also updated the website to include more searchable documents, separated content where needed, added links, and said she will supply the three older labor contracts to give the checklist’s recommended five years of coverage.

The communication was part of the reason DeKalb County’s score increased from 72.1 to 82 out of 100.

The city of DeKalb was one municipality that did not increase its score of 88.8 out of 100. Still the highest score among those audited, DeKalb mayor John Rey said they don’t want to settle.

“We can’t become complacent with an 88.8 rating because that incremental 20 percent could be beneficial to our citizens,” he said.

Rey said his information technology department has had other priorities that may explain why DeKalb received the same score.

Burgess said the school district will contact an Illinois Policy Institute employee when changes are made to the website this summer to make sure all the necessary information is available.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “The timing came at a great time.”

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