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Thought Leadership, Best Practices, Insights and Examples

  

How Can Your Local Government Website Play a Role in Transparency?

by Tom Humbarger
Post Date:09/02/2015

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Putting It All Together

In the aftermath of a corruption scandal in 2010, the City of Bell, California went the extra mile to demonstrate the complete turnaround of their agency, with a website that is informative and easy to navigate, and that embodies the best in open government practices. You could call their approach the gold-standard for governmental transparency at the municipal level, with a one-stop transparency section.

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1. Budgets

The City of Cleveland Heights uses OpenGov, a financial transparency website, to help them display their city’s finances over a five-year period. Expenses for all city departments and divisions are also presented in a graphical format. Users can filter the information by department, expense and funds.

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2. Open meeting laws

Posting the time and place of all city council and commission meetings is a key component of transparent government. The City of Costa Mesa, California does a great job of highlighting the meetings for city council and their nine commissions and boards.

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3. Elected officials

Most municipalities do a very good job at identifying their elected officials. The City of Provo identifies their seven council members and includes contact information, background profile and links to their social media and website. This openness presents a human side for the elected officials and makes them very accessible.

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 4. Administrative officials

Identifying administrative officials for cities is another requirement for transparency. The City of San Angelo, Texas provides a brief biographical sketch for key city employees on the city manager’s page and for each city department. They also have a link to their organizational chart and the city staff directory.

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 5. Building permits and zoning

The City of Reno’s Building, Planning and Engineering Division page provides information about permits, zoning, access to maps and application forms. One additional feature that is above the normal standard is theirVirtual Permit Place which offers online services 24-hours a day.

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6. Audits

Sharing audited financial results and a professional opinion on internal controls and fiscal reporting is a key transparency requirement. The City of Manhattan Beach exceeds this requirement by posting audited results for the last five years.

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7. Contracts

 The West Hollywood Open Data Portal provides data on a number of different open government initiatives. One of the portal’s datasets is Open Contracts which lists all active agreements with other agencies and private firms.

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 8. Lobbying

 The City of Enid, Oklahoma follows the Transparency Checklist by identifying the two organizations that lobby on the city’s behalf. In addition, they identify the names of lobbyists hired by the city over the past seven years along with the contract and travel amounts.

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9. Public records

For Open Records Requests, governments must identify the name of the compliance officer and their contact information along with any forms and instructions. On the City of Decautur, Georgia’s website, the request is separated into Police Department Requests, Motor Vehicle Accident Report Requests and Non-Police Request Forms.

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10. Taxes

The final recommendation is that a government be transparent in providing information about all taxes levied. Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin provides extensive information on their real estate taxes Annual Treasurer’s Reports for the last 6 years, Mill Rates, Frequently Asked Questions and Property Tax Information. They also allow residents to pay their taxes online.

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