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Online gov't grades well
By Susan Meeker and Rick Longley
Transparency is not a fad, but a staple of good government.
That is what Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization that declares itself dedicated to open state and local government, said when it released its 2013 Transparency Report Card last week.
The report graded every state and the largest counties, cities and school districts on the availability of information on their websites.
Websites were graded "A" to "F," measuring available content against a checklist of information Sunshine Review believes all governments should provide online to citizens. That includes meeting agendas and minutes, contact information on elected officials, budgets, vendor contracts and labor agreements, ordinances, and information on how to obtain public records.
"It is always a good idea to have information such as budgets online, but sometimes it is a capacity issue," said Glenn County Superintendent of Schools Tracey Quarne. "Websites only have so much capacity, so it could be like trying to put 25 gallons of water in a 5 gallon bucket."
According to the Sunshine Review, state government websites outperform local government websites when it comes to posting online, with 26 percent of state websites scoring in the "A" range, and 60 percent scoring a "B" or above.
The five states earning the highest grades were California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington. The five worst states were Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
In contrast, 28 percent of county websites scored a "B" or above, and 44 percent of cities scored a "B" or above.
Glenn County, which was not graded, has a great deal of information on its website that is accessible to the public, including the 2012-13 budget.
Supervisor Mike Murray of Willows said his grade for the county's website is a B-plus.
"One of our strengths is the salary information and job descriptions," Murray said. "That lends itself to transparency."
He added he would like to see staff recruitment a bit more current, but believes that could be handled once a new personnel director is on board.
Murray also believes the county's website has a lot of information with links to its various agencies, adding more information can be found by listening to the audio recordings of board meetings.
The board tapes its meetings and provides a live Internet link during the proceedings.
"You can hear the inflection while listening that does not come out in print," he said.
Willows also has audio recordings of its City Council and Planning Commission meetings online.
Although hard to find, the city's budget information is on its website, as well as the municipal code, programs, audits and staff listings.
"With few exceptions, citizens rarely want contracts or labor agreements and the like," said City Manager Steve Holsinger. "However, all are readily available at city hall."
Holsinger said any time an action is taken by the City Council, the documentation is placed in its entirety in the minutes and agenda section of the website.
"Adding duplication of documents all over the web-site utilizes additional storage space for which the city would incur additional expense," he said.
According to the Sunshine Review, 92 percent of government agencies post contact information for elected officials online.
Willows does not.
Holsinger said it was the direction of a previous City Council not to disclose their contact information, but that could change with new direction.
"If they wish to include additional information, it is easy to accommodate and can be handled by city staff," he said.
Orland's website met the basic criteria set by Sunshine Review.
The agendas also are online along with meeting minutes, audio recordings, city budgets, photos and phone numbers of council members.
Business forms and links to the Orland Area Chamber of Commerce, Glenn County and other organizations also are available, and the city has its own Facebook page.