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updated: 1/17/2012 4:23 PM

DuPage forest officials consider transparency plan

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The DuPage County Forest Preserve District board unanimously approved a plan Tuesday that officials say will make its operations more transparent to taxpayers.

With the help of Reverse Spin, a public relations firm hired on a yearlong, $48,000 contract that caused some public outcry, the district will revamp its website.

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Changes will include the addition of employee salary lists, a list of the district's contract lobbyists, and the posting of all Freedom of Information requests.

The plan also calls for forming a new transparency committee featuring one commissioner, one employee and one member of the public appointed by the forest preserve president. The group would meet quarterly to generate new recommendations for open government.

Officials said the project will be phased in over about a year online, using existing employees and Reverse Spin's resources.

But on Tuesday some residents and candidates running for the forest preserve in the March 20 primary election continued criticizing the district's contract with Wheaton-based Reverse Spin LLC, a political consulting firm that's worked on statewide campaigns and with DuPage agencies.

Before the vote was approved Tuesday and at previous public meetings, residents, candidates and activist organizations have called the company's co-owner, Dan Curry, a "political operative," and said the contract should be pulled since the district has a six-person public relations team that annually earns nearly $400,000 combined.

But, Curry said, while the forest preserve already has many public documents on its website, his company's ideas "would simplify and expand upon those efforts."

Other highlights of the plan include:

• A transparency portal on the district website, dupageforest.org, that organizes all public information in a simpler way. • An "open checkbook" that officials say would give the public access to all district expenditures and receipts. • A Freedom of Information Center that would tell users how to make a FOIA request, and would list all public requests and their results. • While the district currently includes contact information for commissioners, this would also include contact information for top administrative employees. • A list of all the district's vendors and contractors, as well as contracts under which they operate. • A separate Web page for the district's contract lobbyists and their contracts. • Expansion of the district's past board minutes. Currently, the site posts five years of archives, but the database would expand to 10 years. • A list of taxes and fees that fund district activities. The proposal would be explained in a "simple, digestible format."

• A link to existing public databases that list salaries for government employees.

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