Wednesday, November 14, 2012

County gets D- for transparency

Commissioners react to poor grade from Sunshine Review

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County received a grade of D- in transparency last week from the Sunshine Review, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to increasing transparency in government.

The Sunshine Review found a lack of information on the county’s website on the budget, meeting schedule, audits, contracts, public records and taxes.

According to a press release, the Sunshine Review conducted studies of all county websites in Idaho.

The organization’s website states that county websites should include the county’s current budget, as well as checkbook registers and credit card receipts, notices of public meetings and minutes of past meetings, the names and contact information of elected and administrative officials, downloadable applications for building permits and zoning, audit information, contracts for purchases over $10,000, information on any taxpayer-funded lobbying associations the government funds by paying dues, contact information for the person in charge of fulfilling open records requests, and all tax information in a central location.

According to the scores, Blaine County had provided information on elected and administrative officials and permit applications, as well as some information on public meetings and tax information. However, all other items were either missing or were not found by the organization in its search.

Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview on Tuesday that while Blaine County’s score was low, the county would discuss the issue and work on potential improvements to the site.

“This is an opportunity,” he said. “I don’t see this as a crisis.”

Both Schoen and Commissioner Angenie McCleary said that they heard about the Sunshine Review report from the Idaho Mountain Express’ website, and had not yet had time to discuss the score with the organization. McCleary said that the county is dedicated to transparency as a whole, and that she would appreciate any concrete suggestions that the organization would have to offer.

“We take transparency very seriously,” she said. “We’re doing everything in the public eye.”

McCleary said that she would schedule time in a future meeting to discuss the county’s score, as well as any ways that the county can improve its external communications.

Schoen said that he agreed that the county needed to work more on external communications, and that the review might provide a good opportunity to delve deeper into the issue.

“I am not crazy about the shaming part of [the report],” he said. “But we learn from these experiences.”

Schoen and McCleary pointed out that all of the information that the Sunshine Review sought on the website is available, though not necessarily provided online. Blaine County Deputy Clerk Leslie Londos said that public records requests are handled by the specific departments that have the requested record on file.

Blaine County did not receive the lowest grade in the state. Bannock, Bingham, Bear Lake, Bonneville, Clearwater, Custer, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Owyhee, Power, Twin Falls and Valley counties all received “F” grades.

Kate Wutz:




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