Illinois' largest cities show wide disparity in online transparency, Chicago fails

A new report looking at the state’s 25 largest municipalities shows a wide disparity in citizens’ access to basic government information online from community to community.

In places such as Evanston, Skokie and Orland Park, citizens have excellent access to basic financial and participatory information online, but the same isn’t true in many other areas. A lack of statewide standards is leaving many Illinois residents in the dark.

Twelve major Illinois cities, including Chicago, Aurora, Rockford and Joliet, all failed the Illinois Policy Institute’s recent online transparency audit, which includes measures such as posting annual financial reports, employee compensation and third-party expenditures online. This lack of transparency hurts public participation in local government, and leaves those communities open to Illinois’ corruption problem.

As Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn said, “The perception of being detected is one of the strongest deterrents to fraud, according to fraud experts. This is why adopting a policy of transparency in governments, especially local governments, is so important.”

Many Illinois communities are still not getting the message of the importance of online transparency. Chicago and Cicero are significant contributors to Illinois’ reputation for government corruption, but judging from their failing online transparency scores they continue to leave the door open for future problems.

Chicago failed the Institute’s transparency audit with a score of 52 percent. Citizens of Chicago will struggle to find information on an array of byzantine websites, which often lack complete information. For example, the City of Chicago’s Data Portal includes a listing of employee salaries, but does not disclose annual overtime, special duty pay, bonuses and other compensation such as insurance or pension contributions.

Cicero had the lowest online transparency score by far, with a score of only 22 percent, and failed to score any points in seven different transparency categories including the annual financial reports, employee compensation and contracts categories of the Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.

Springfield, Champaign, Decatur, Bolingbrook, Des Plaines, Oak Lawn and Berwyn also failed the transparency audit.

At the other end of the spectrum were the three communities that earned perfect scores, and the communities of Naperville, Peoria, Elgin, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Palatine, Tinley Park and Mount Prospect all earned the Institute’s Sunshine Award by scoring an 80 percent or better on the audit.

In these communities it is much easier for citizens to be active, educated participants in local government while proactively fighting public corruption.

The wide disparity in online transparency scores reinforces the idea that statewide standards need to be strengthened. House Bill 3312, a bipartisan bill introduced last year by state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, would have dramatically improved online transparency standards for all local government entities in the state of Illinois with budgets of more than $1 million. Unfortunately, after passing the House Counties and Townships Committee, the bill stalled in the General Assembly.

Here’s a look at the online transparency scores from the 25 largest municipalities in the state by population size.

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Click here for complete details on how each community scored.

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