Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Lawrence governments, agencies fare on providing open records

October 20, 2011

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How the governments, agencies fared

Below is a listing of each agency and whether or not it had certain types of information posted online. The criteria were adapted from a checklist developed by Sunshine Review, a non-profit group that rates governmental entities for online public transparency.

City of Lawrence

• Budget: Yes, archived back to 2002.

• Meetings: Yes, audio and video coverage on more recent meetings, overall archived back to 2002.

• Elected officials with contact information: Yes

• Administrative Officials with contact information: Yes

• Permits/zoning: Yes, 2010 and 2011 online in form of monthly reports.

• Audits: Yes, yearly audits archived back to 2008.

• Contracts: Bids and bid proposals all online.

• Citizens directed to a specific person for open records requests: Yes.

Douglas County

• Budget: Yes, archived back 2002.

• Meetings: Yes, archived back to 2002.

• Elected officials: Yes.

• Admin. Officials: Yes, listed throughout website.

• Permits/zoning: Yes.

• Audits: Some posted, but yearly audit is not.

• Contracts: Not posted.

• Citizens directed to a specific person for open records requests: No

• Taxes: Property values/taxes searchable engine

Lawrence Public Schools

• Budget: Yes, 2010 is online with comparisons for prior two years.

• Meetings: Yes, archived back to 2007.

• Elected officials: Yes.

• Administration officials: Yes.

• Citizens directed to a specific person for open records requests: No, but questions are directed to the district’s communications director.

• Contracts with teachers and support staff: Yes.

• Contracts with vendors: Yes, approved and presented at individual board meetings and referenced in minutes, but no annual compilation.

• Audits: Yes, presented annually to school board and in meeting minutes, but not listed separately.

• Tax Burden: Yes, updates provided with each school board meeting.

Teaching licensure requirements: Yes.

• Employee background check policy: No.

• ACT test scores: Yes.

• State report card: Yes, linked to state site.

• Adequate Yearly progress: Yes.

Line-item analyses, audits, expenditures, special sessions, contracts and bids — all the exciting pieces of the governmental puzzle are just a mouse click away.

A survey of local government websites found that internet browsers can find many — but not all — public records, voluntarily uploaded by public agencies.

“Local governments, generally speaking, are really beginning to understand the importance of voluntary transparency,” said Matt Rosenberg, executive director of the transparency advocacy group Public Eye Northwest. “All of this stuff is about trust.”

The Journal-World examined the websites of the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the Lawrence Public Schools using an online transparency checklist created by Sunshine Review, a national non-profit group that advocates for online access to public records.

The checklist looks for records such as audits, budgets, meeting minutes and information about how to request records.

Here’s how the three agencies stacked up to the adapted checklist, which varies its requirements, making it specific to cities, counties and school districts:

• City of Lawrence: Included online access to all eight categories of public records recommended by the checklist.

• Douglas County: Included six of eight categories. The site doesn’t post audits, contracts or detail a specific person to request records from.

• Lawrence Public Schools: Included seven and half of nine categories. The site also does not detail a person to send records to, nor does it post the policy for background check requirements when hiring.

How public officials responded to our results:

• Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator, said he’s concerned if agencies post all documents, important information could get lost in bulky and cumbersome documents. “In some cases, it’s worse,” said Weinaug of simply posting hundred-page, technical reports of documents.

However, after hearing the results, Weinaug said they’d be working on ways to post all the records required by the checklist. He also said they’d be willing to post any open records requested by the public.

• Julie Boyle, Lawrence Public Schools communications director, said her agency seeks ways to make information more accessible. “We try to think of who’s coming to the site and what they’ll be looking for,” she said.

Some of the information that was available on the district’s website was not located under its own tab, and required a little digging. For instance, audits were located inside one of the school board’s regular meeting minutes. Boyle said the district would be looking for ways to improve access on the site, and is open to suggestions from community members. Suggestions can be made via a “suggestions” link on the district’s site.

The complete checklist and links to documents for each local agency can be found on LJWorld.com. If you want help locating a public record, contact Journal-World reporter Shaun Hittle at sdhittle@ljworld.com.

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Comments

pace 3 years, 6 months ago

good reporting. I hope there is a sequel on state of Kansas departments and offices.

deec 3 years, 6 months ago

At this point that shouldn't take long. Records? We don't need no stinking records!

shaunepec 3 years, 5 months ago

We'll definitely consider that. Sunshine Review did a previous check on Kansas, and gave the state a "B.": http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Evaluation_of_Kansas_state_website

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

Actually, I looked at that report - the only grade I could find was a "C", given by something called US PIRG, or something similar.

And, when was that done - I didn't find a date.

ignatius_j_reilly 3 years, 5 months ago

The fire-medical staff and the county court records office are friendly, professional and extremely helpful with records requests. The LPD's office is a joke. Overall, I'd say I'm happy with the LPD, but its records department seriously casts doubt on honesty and transparency throughout the organization.

Informed_Citizen 3 years, 5 months ago

Public officials should never do the public the favor of dumbing down information. Provide summaries and highlight the most important points, yes, but never call the public too ignorant to read a large document, especially in a university town. The government does not know best.

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