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Sunshine Review's 2013 Transparency Report Card highlights local government success

February 5, 2013

While open and transparent government efforts may only be news worthy topics at certain times of the year, they are a constant effort for the offices that implement them. No governing body can afford to avoid this issue, as it has become a "staple of good government," according to the Sunshine Review. The firm's annual transparency report analyzes state and local government operations and efforts to be more open, and ranks them from A to F based on its customized 10-point checklist.

According to Sunshine Review's 2013 Transparency Report Card, only 26 states scored an A, while 60 percent scored a B - fairly good averages. On the county level, 28 percent scored a B, and 44 percent of city governments scored a B as well. However, school districts scored much lower, with only 20 percent at a B and the majority at a C or D. Additionally, few counties or cities earned a score of A, while no school districts did. No states or cities earned an F, according to the report.

State level
According to the report, many states struggled with disclosing data regarding lobbying, obtaining records and making data easy to find. Only 60 percent of states provide an internal search on their website, which can significantly improve information retrieval and enhance transparency and open government strategies. However, every state met the firm's standards for disclosing information on taxes, audits and contact information. Only three states earned a C grade, while four earned an A+.

County level
On the county level, however, the numbers changed noticeably. Every county in Colorado and Illinois received an A grade, yet only 40 percent of counties across the nation earned a B or higher, and five states did not have active county governments - all located in New England. Approximately 97 percent of counties met Sunshine Review's criteria for budget disclosure, yet only 12 percent accurately provided information on lobbying. Many counties struggled to publish vendor contracts and information on obtaining records as well.

City level
Cities outperformed counties, according to the report, with 44 percent of cities averaging a B or higher. About 93 percent met the firm's criteria for disclosing permit information and ordinances, and 92 percent provided up-to-date contact information while 91 percent disclosed budget data. Like counties though, many cities struggled to provide information regarding vendor contracts and how to obtain records and data on lobbying.

School district level
Overall, school districts performed the worst on Sunshine Review's report. No schools received an A, while only 14 percent got a B grade. About 24 percent of districts received a C, and 14 percent got a D grade, while one state got an F for every district. Far fewer school districts revealed contact information, and schools struggled with many of the same criteria that counties and cities did. Additionally, 62 percent of schools provided access on their websites to academic performance reports, and only 58 percent revealed budget information.

Overall, the grading report shows that while many state governments have a handle on transparency, quite a few counties and cities need to improve, while school districts need a significant amount of help. Investing in high-quality meeting management software can assist in a variety of ways, from improving the organization of data to freeing up staff from other administrative tasks to focus on ensuring information is accurate and available to the public.