Ten-Point Transparency Checklist - Illinois Policy Institute
  1. Contact information
  2. Public meetings
  3. Public information
  4. Budgets
  5. Audits
  6. Expenditures
  7. Compensation
  8. Contracts
  9. Lobbying
  10. Taxes

Taxing bodies with a 100 percent 

  1. Village of Orland Park
  2. Village of Lombard
  3. Kane County
  4. Hanover Township
  5. Village of Skokie
  6. City of Evanston

For a complete look at the specifics on how we score each category please refer to our grading key.

1. Contact information

Online transparency recommendation

  • Name, phone number and email address for all elected officials
  • Name, phone number and email address for all department heads and senior administrator

Officials are elected to represent their constituents. In order to do so effectively they should be engaged in regular dialogue and be as accessible as possibly by providing a variety of ways to be contacted.

Administrative staffs are knowledgeable resources, provide constituent services and often enforce ordinances. Because of these roles it is imperative for them to be available to constituents by providing contact information to the heads of each department and not just general information.

To be able to participate fully in democracy citizens need the ability to contact and interact with their elected representatives and government administrators.

Example: Elected Officials Village of Lombard
Example: Administrators Village of Lombard

2. Public meetings

Online transparency recommendation

  • A calendar disclosing one year’s worth of scheduled public meetings
  • Agendas and board packets posted online 72 hours prior to board meetings
  • Meeting minutes for previous five years
  • Board packets for previous five years

Rationale

Citizens should have the knowledge of when an elected body meets and what issues they will be voting on so they can be informed and engaged in the democratic process. Meetings are one of the few ways the public can engage in true dialogue with their elected representatives. Failing to provide adequate materials to citizens and the media in advance hinders public participation in democratic institutions, and the participation that does happen is made on a less-educated basis.

Given the reality of citizen’s busy schedules, governments should also offer an alternative to attending to be informed about public meetings by posting agendas, board packets and meeting minutes on their website.

Example: Calendar Village of Hoffman Estates
Example: Agendas & Minutes Village of Hanover Park
Example: Board Packets City of Rolling Meadows

3.    Public records

Online transparency recommendation

  • Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, submission information
  • General address, phone number and email for submission
  • Specific FOIA officer name, phone number, email
  • Response time disclosure
  • Fee disclosure

Rationale

Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and how their government is operating. FOIA requests provide an important means through which the public can obtain information regarding the activities of government agencies, which are required by law to respond to FOIA requests.

FOIA is often the preferred tool of government watchdogs to hold their government accountable. The FOIA process is often made intimidating to citizens when they don’t have clear instructions on how to file a FOIA request.

A public body that maintains a website is required by Illinois state law to post its FOIA process and FOIA officer information prominently on its website.

Example: DuPage County FOIA submission & FOIA officer contact information

4.    Budgets

Online transparency recommendation

  • Last five years of detailed budgets in searchable format

Rationale

Budgets show the big picture of what goals and priorities the government established for the year and prior years. Budgets details also serve as a way for taxpayers determine how the government performed in relation to past years and allow citizens to hold government accountable to their plans in the past.

Example: Village of Hoffman Estates

5.    Audits

Online transparency recommendation

  • Last five years of audited comprehensive annual financial reports in searchable format

Rationale

While budgets give the big picture to constituents, an audit reveals how well a government performs on its goals. An audit reveals whether elected officials kept their promises and enables constituents to hold them accountable.

Posting five years of audits allows citizens to track government spending over time to spot unusual activity or growth in government spending. An audited comprehensive annual report also includes a management letter that points out problems in accounting processes and helps stop opportunities for fraud.

Example: Village of Schaumburg

6.    Expenditures

Online transparency recommendation

  • Five years of individual third-party searchable expenditures via bill list or check register
  • Five years of searchable third-party annual expenditures, total expenditures to each vendor for year

Rationale

Having access to a check register or bill list provides timely and pertinent information about government operations to the citizens and taxpayers. Often such bill lists are voted upon by elected officials and citizens should have access to the same information as its leaders. Having expenditure information online deters waste and abuse by government employees, and increases the chances of rectifying problems once they occur.

Example: Year-End Expenditures Orland Park (Treasurer’s Report)
Example: Checkbook Register Orland Park 

7.    Compensation

Online transparency recommendation

  • Five years of searchable individual employee wage compensation (all W-2 wage earnings salary, bonuses, overtime)
  • Five years of searchable individual employee benefit compensation (health, dental and life insurance; retirement payments; etc.)

Rationale

Employee compensation is usually the biggest cost area for most counties and local governments. Government employees work for and are paid by the taxpayers. Citizens have a right to know how their money is being spent.

Example: City of Evanston

8.    Contracts

Online transparency recommendation

  • Current requests for proposals and bidding opportunities, more than $25,000 in value
  • Instructions on how to submit a bid or proposal
  • Approved vendor contracts, more than $25,000 in value
  • Individual employee contracts
  • Collective bargaining contracts

Rationale

Every local government agency should want to attract as many high-qualified bidders as possible when they submit a request for proposal out to the public. Posting this information online expands the marketplace for local governments to find the most qualified business at the best price.

Contracts with third parties are often an area where local taxpayers fall victim to corruption and malfeasance. Third-party contracts should be available to public watchdogs to discourage and expose insider dealings. When details about contracts are posted online the public can find out important details, such as if the contract went to the family and friends of elected or administrative officials or did not go out for bid. Posting previous contracts gives competitors the information to better bid on future contracts, thus increasing the marketplace of qualified bidders and potentially lowering costs for taxpayers.

It is also important to post individual employee contracts, such as a county administrator, and collective bargaining agreements online. Labor costs are often the biggest cost area for local governments. The terms of these costs are outlined in labor agreements. The Institute has separately recommend to post proposed collective bargaining contracts online for at least 14 days, allowing citizens to examine and comment on them in a public hearing prior to a vote.

Example: Village of Schaumburg

9.    Lobbying

Online transparency recommendation

  • Post contracts that disclose value and purpose of lobbying efforts for past five years
  • Disclose any taxpayer-funded lobbying organizations that local government pays fees to
  • Post statement that the local government doesn’t engage in any lobbying or pay dues to a taxpayer-funded lobbying organization, if this is the case

Rationale

Almost all government entities have lobbyists on retainer or are members of an association that lobbies on their behalf. Taxpayers have the right to know when their tax dollars are being spent to lobby other government agencies; many times local government agencies are lobbying for more revenue from other government agencies.

The amount of money spent on lobbying should be disclosed to the public along with information about what type of lobbying is being done. While the topic of taxpayer-funded lobbying is very controversial, at the very least citizens should be informed about lobbying activities so they can determine if the lobbying is appropriate or not.

Example: Village of Skokie

10.  Taxes

Online transparency recommendation

  • Disclose tax rates for all major revenue sources of the local government’s own taxing power including property, sales, telecommunication, hotel, etc.
  • Disclose all fees
  • Disclose all revenue sources

Rationale

Citizens should have ready access to tax and fee information. Having tax and fee rates available helps individuals and businesses where to live, work and shop. The more transparent taxes and fees are the easier it is for citizens to notice when rates go up. From the collection perspective, when taxes and fees are readily disclosed to the public it helps reduce delinquency rates.

Example: Village of Orland Park (Category 10)

If you’re an elected official or government administrator contact Brian Costin at bcostin@illinoispolicy.org for more information on how to earn a perfect 100% score on our transparency audit.

*The Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist was created in consultation with the Sunshine Review.

autor
Brian Costin | Director of Government Reform
New dad. Government transparency expert. Watchdog. Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks fan.