Last year, in an editorial titled “Public websites all need rapid improvement” (Feb. 15, 2011) we pointed out that the websites of Grantsville City, Tooele City and Tooele County were all rated as subpar compared to government entities of comparable size in Utah by the national transparency organization Sunshine Review. We called for speedy, specific improvements to those sites so that taxpayers could better interact with their government and access public information.
A year later, unfortunately, not much has changed.
According to revised grades issued by Sunshine Review, Grantsville City was the only one of the three entities above to make progress on its website — and that was modest, rising from a near rock-bottom “D-” to a “C-.” Tooele City dropped from a “C” to a “C-” while Tooele County held on to its solid “D” rating.
The county has an information technologies department with eight employees. However, that team has thus far been unable to find a way to post direct contact information, such as phone extensions and email addresses, for the three county commissioners on the website. The county also retained its “D” by failing to provide information on how much it taxes residents, past budgets, contracts and information on taxpayer-funded lobbying expenses. We pointed out last year, as well, that the county was missing this same basic information.
Past budgets were also lacking from Tooele City’s website. Considering how simple these are to archive, it’s difficult to fathom an excuse for not letting taxpayers know, via the very visible mechanism of a website, how their money was spent in previous years. It’s also difficult to understand why local governments don’t devote a small portion of their websites to letting people know what they’re taxed for and at what rates.
Perhaps only Grantsville has taken the challenge of improving its website seriously. With far less money or manpower than Tooele County or Tooele City, Grantsville has added several improvements to its website, raising its grade from an “F” two years ago to the equal of Tooele this year.
Websites offer local government some wonderful opportunities to communicate directly with citizens and extend transparency. Telling people they can go to a government office and inspect records is not the same thing. Our local governments should be reaching out to the people they serve by putting as much information online as possible. They may never score a perfect “A” on the Sunshine Review’s report cards, but they can offer an example of transparency that will set us above other small communities in the state.