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updated: 8/2/2012 3:27 PM

Transparency audit finds 9 DuPage government bodies lacking

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Logging in to find information about your taxing body could be more difficult than it needs to be for some DuPage County residents, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

Only 13 of 22 local governments received passing grades during the latest round of online transparency audits conducted by the watchdog agency, called the "Local Transparency Project."

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The Village of Lombard scored highest, with a perfect score. But nine of the government units, including Glen Ellyn, Oakbrook Terrace and Villa Park, received failing marks.

Brian Costin, the institute's director of government reform, said corruption is more easily spotted and residents more likely to participate in local government if information about their tax dollars is more readily available and easy to find.

Costin said the institute reached out to the municipalities and school districts in April with a grade based on simple searches of their websites.

"We then offered them advice on some simple steps to improve the scores and we worked with those who sought our help," he said. "Then we came back last month and did another audit to see if there was any improvement. Those scores are current as recently as last week."

Grades are based on the online availability of public meeting schedules, government employee salaries and tax rates.

"We really hope this project compels our governments to help citizens understand where their dollars are being spent," Costin said. "We like it to be really easy for citizens to find. If you have documents they should be no more than a few clicks from the homepage, not buried in a PDF report 30 clicks in."

Since the project was launched by the Institute in February 2010, more than 160 government entities have been graded.

Costin said a score of 80 is considered excellent and should be easy to achieve.

"The taxing bodies who get the last 20 percent are going above and beyond and doing really well," he said.

The government entities that scored above 80 percent were: Lombard, Elmhurst Unit District 205, Elmhurst, DuPage County, DuPage High School District 88 and Downers Grove.

Lombard improved its score by 29 percent from the first audit to achieve a perfect 100.

"We are more than happy to provide all the documentation we have out there for the public to review in an open format," Lombard Village Manager Dave Hulseberg said Thursday.

District 205 was close behind with a score of 90.8, good for an A-.

"Transparency is something Elmhurst District 205 takes very seriously. We understand that public schools are simply that -- public. We have an obligation to communicate the management of this district to the community that supports us," Superintendent Dave Pruneau said. "To that end, we work hard to provide documentation and commentary, through our board of education meetings, through our website and through direct email communication with our constituents on a weekly basis."

Government agencies that received passing grades were Oak Brook, Westmont, Downers Grove Elementary District 58, Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 in Hinsdale, Villa Park Elementary District 45 and Community High School District 99 in Downers Grove.

The nine failing agencies were York Township, Glenbard High School District 87, Hinsdale Township High School District 86, Salt Creek Elementary District 48, Butler Elementary District 53 and the municipalities of Glen Ellyn, Oakbrook Terrace and Villa Park.

Oakbrook Terrace received an F based on its score of 30. City Manager John Carpino said he and other city officials are aware of the difficulty residents have navigating the city's website and have begun working toward building a more user-friendly site. They hope to have a plan in place by October but costs, estimated to be about $20,000, could push any improvements into the next budget year.

"I think we have a great amount of information available that is easily accessible. And if you request something, you get it in a timely manner," Carpino said. "But we know our website isn't that great and can require a lot of hunting and pecking."

Officials at Glenbard High School District 87, which also received a failing score of 39, said they appreciated the audit and are committed to providing the public with easy access.

"Our award-winning website has information in each of the areas on the Illinois Policy Institute's checklist; however, to date, we have not posted five years' worth of information, which the Illinois Policy Institute includes in its transparency scoring process," spokeswoman Peg Manion wrote in a email response. "In the coming weeks, we will add information to our website. This requires some logistical and clerical manpower."

The process doesn't end with the audits. Costin said the institute is willing to help any of the taxing bodies improve their score and will celebrate any group that pulls itself out of the failing category and update their status in the report.

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