CHICAGO — With the click of a mouse, residents in Kane County can find out when the next county board meeting will be or what tax rates they pay. But in many counties across northern Illinois, this type of information is not readily available to the public.
In the Illinois Policy Institute’s latest round of online government transparency audits, 20 out of 26 county governments in northern Illinois received failing grades. Six received passing grades, including Kane County, which was the first county-level government to earn a perfect score of 100 percent.
“Proactive government transparency is one of the most important tools we have to help prevent, expose and put an end to government corruption,” said Brian Costin, director of government reform at the Illinois Policy Institute. “In light of the high levels of corruption in northern Illinois, it is surprising that many county governments are not doing more to provide basic financial and participatory information to their citizens online.”
The six county governments that received passing grades are Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Rock Island counties.
The 20 counties that failed the transparency audit are Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Grundy, Henry, Jo Daviess, Kankakee, Kendall, LaSalle, Lee, Marshall, McHenry, Mercer, Ogle, Putnam, Stark, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago counties.
To fight corruption and encourage public participation in government, the Illinois Policy Institute grades governments on how much public information is available online. Dubbed “The Local Transparency Project,” grades are based on the availability of public meeting schedules, government employee salaries, tax rates and other vital community information. Since the project was launched by the Institute in February 2010, more than 160 government entities have been graded.
Costin, who leads the institute’s government transparency efforts, applauded Kane County’s high score.
“Kane County is the first county-level government to achieve the highest possible score on the Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-point Transparency Checklist,” Costin said. “We enthusiastically applaud the efforts of Chairman [Karen] McConnaughay, the county board and the hardworking county staff to be more open and accountable to taxpayers.”
McConnaughay stressed the importance of making transparency a constant goal for governments, especially at a time when public trust is low and Illinois has developed a reputation for corruption.
“Kane County has led the way on transparency, having been recognized nationally for our trailblazing efforts,” McConnaughay said. “But we never rest on our laurels and worked diligently to receive this perfect score. I’m proud of our team and grateful to the Illinois Policy Institute for its efforts to promote open and responsive government.”
For democracy to work, citizens need access to the information about what government does. Proactive transparency is the best way to educate society about the actions of government, keep voters informed and prevent corruption. That’s why the Local Transparency Project grades public agencies on the availability of the following information: elected and administrative officials; public meetings; how to file a Freedom of Information Act request; budgets; audits; expenditures; salaries and benefits; contracts, lobbying; and taxing levels.
A full list of scores is available online at http://www.illinoispolicy.org/news/article.asp?ArticleSource=4916.
The Illinois Policy Institute is a nonpartisan research and education organization. To learn more about the institute or review its policy work, visit www.illinoispolicy.org.
From the July 4-10, 2012, issue