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
• 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.
• Budget: Yes, archived back 2002.
• Meetings: Yes, archived back to 2002.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.