This is long over due but the Sunshine Review has completed one part of their My Government Web site project. “The goal of the My Government Website project is to produce evaluations of the websites of every city, county, school district and state agency in all fifty states.” A few weeks ago Sunshine Review and their community finished evaluating every county Web site in the country, all 3,140. This is an incredible first step. They evaluate every site based on their ten point checklist. Does the Web site have, the budget, meetings, information about elected and administrative officials , permit info, audits, contracts, lobbying, public records, and local tax information. You can see all fifty states compared and then drill down and compare counties in each state to each other.
Sunshine Review, a project by the Sam Adams Alliance, also keeps track of transparency legislation, state spending databases, and state FOIA information. There is a lot of transparency initiatives happening on the state level and Sunshine Review is a great resource to start finding out what is going on.
County, city, and school district Web sites tend to be the most unusable, poorly designed, impossible to navigate. However, they are really important for getting information about local community events, issues, and general government information. It is great to see them being evaluated in a systematic way. There is a lot of room for improvement. These sites are where people get information and they should be hubs for the local community and transparency measures.
However there are a lot issues at the local level that prevent them from being transparent. It can be difficult to understand why some local sites that might be run by one or two people and just need a handful of elected officials' are having such a hard time upgrading. Local government information tends to be run by contractors who have contracts for years that are hard to break. Also most county level governments don't have the expertise on hand or the staff capacity to run a Web site that has to be updated with the frequency that new online measures require. Add to that the lack of political will to want to get out of a contract, hire a developer, open up information and potentially collaborate. You get a lousy Web site.
With projects like My Government Web sites, there is now a way to give constructive feedback and also a way to talk to your elected officials about their Web presence. Every state, county, and city should have a functioning Web site that allows people to find information that is essential to their community. City, school, and state agency sites still have to be done. So get to work.