Illinois website transparency standards improved for 2015

Brian Costin

Open government and government transparency expert

Brian Costin
July 25, 2014

Illinois website transparency standards improved for 2015

An online transparency bill inspired by the shocking Rita Crundwell corruption scandal that cost Dixon, Ill. taxpayers more than $53 million will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2015. House Bill 5503, introduced by state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, will require Illinois counties and municipalities to be more transparent about how they spend taxpayer dollars. The...

An online transparency bill inspired by the shocking Rita Crundwell corruption scandal that cost Dixon, Ill. taxpayers more than $53 million will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2015.

House Bill 5503, introduced by state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, will require Illinois counties and municipalities to be more transparent about how they spend taxpayer dollars. The bill has been signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn and is now Public Act 98-0738.

The bill will require local governments with websites to post their audited financial statements and management letters online within 60 days of the close of an audit. Additionally, auditors will be required to present the audits to the county board or municipality during a public meeting.

While most local governments with websites in Illinois already post their comprehensive annual financial reports, or CAFRs, online, certainly not all do. Typically, the type of communities who don’t post their CAFRs are also the ones with corruption problems.

Prior to the Crundwell corruption scandal, an Illinois Policy Institute Local Transparency Project audit showed the city of Dixon failed to post key corruption-fighting documents online, including a CAFR. Posting five years of CAFRs online is the recommendation of the Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.

Very few local governments post their management letters from auditors online. This bill will dramatically change that. Management letters are prepared by a certified public accountant and often contain information administrators and elected officials deem sensitive; such as documenting improper financial controls, bad bookkeeping practices or potential fraud. Management letters will be much more visible and useful to the public in fighting public corruption and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately come 2015.

Finally, the bill also requires auditors to make a presentation about the audit before the board at a public meeting. This is a great opportunity for board members and the general public to ask questions and understand CAFRs and management letters.

A great first step in becoming an effective watchdog is to see if your local government is following the state’s local government website posting laws, and alerting the Public Access Counselor’s office if they are not doing what is required.

The passage of Demmer’s bill represents the biggest pro-transparency win for Illinois this year and helps fight the corruption, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

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