Some scores out of date for transparency project

Officials from the city of Elgin and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County say grades assessing their transparency posted on a watchdog group's website were obsolete.

The district says the Illinois Policy Institute released the older findings even when newer scores were available and before they given a chance to respond to their supposed transparency shortcomings.

“We're being held accountable, but no one's holding them accountable,” said Sue Olafson, a forest preserve district spokeswoman. “Before they go public with scores, perhaps there should be some consideration of going back to the organization and saying ... 'Can you tell us if this information is on your site?' Just give us an opportunity to respond.”

But the institute defends itself, saying the entities should have confirmed their higher scores so the institute could replace the older ones. Brian Costin, the institute's director of government reform, said if an entity doesn't like its score, it can always request another transparency audit.

“I can understand their frustration and the only thing I can say is if they want to get rescored, feel free to contact us and we'll update their score accordingly,” Costin said.

The institute uses a 10-point transparency checklist to grade government websites on whether they list public information, such as employee salaries and benefits, meeting minutes and schedules, Freedom of Information Act information and trustee names and contact information.

The project started in 2010, and Costin and an intern are the only people working on the local transparency project.

Records show Elgin and the district earned much higher scores than what the institute originally had on its website. Elgin scored 28.5 out of 100 percent in 2010 during an initial audit but received a 76.7 percent when it ran another audit this year, documents show. The new number is now reflected on the institute's website.

The DuPage forest district, meanwhile, scored 40 percent in 2010, then raised its score to 57.9 percent two years later. The institute's most recent audit in July scored the district's website at 70.1 percent, but as of Sunday, the institute's website still had the 40 percent score listed.

Both entities are trying to win the institute's Sunshine Award for excellence in transparency, which recognizes scores of 80 percent and higher. The institute didn't want to post scores lower than that threshold until Elgin and the forest district gave them the green light. Because neither entity responded, the older scores remained, Costin said.

Costin also acknowledged the institute listed an incorrect score for Villa Park on its website. The correct score for Villa Park is 87.3 percent, up from 41.1 percent.

Roselle also has given the institute permission to release its newer score of 76.6 percent, up from 28.1 percent, Costin said.

Due to its limited resources and the number of governmental institutions statewide, the institute relies on entities to respond to the initial audits. Costin also said annual audits would be “impossible.”

“We'd love to grade organizations as frequently as possible, that's why anytime they request us to do a rescore we'll do it,” Costin said.

Audit: Suburban governments far from transparent

Open to review?

Since the Illinois Policy Institute's transparency project was made public, several suburban government entities have asked the institute for follow up reviews. Here's a list of who wants what.

Seeking a first-time audit:

Algonquin Township, Elgin Township, Libertyville, Lombard Elementary District 44, Naperville Park District, Nunda Township and Woodland Elementary District 50.

Asking for new audit of their updated websites:

Arlington Heights, DuPage Forest Preserve District, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates Park District, and Lake County.

Source: Illinois Policy Institute

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