|Transparency grading process|
What information should cities disclose on their websites?
City residents and taxpayers need to be able to adequately gauge whether a city government is:
- Frugal with tax revenues
- In compliance with all expectations and relevant laws about public records and open meetings.
In order for this to happen, residents and taxpayers should expect to find key information on any city's website.
The city website should include comprehensive budget information.
- The budget for the current fiscal year should be posted online.
- Budgets for previous years should be posted online, at least the past 3 years.
- It should be very easy for people to find this information when they visit the website. This means that prominent navigational features enabling someone to locate the budget should be included on the homepage of the website.
- Graphic features that compare the current budget to past years' budgets should be incorporated, to enable people to make sense of trends over time.
- Narrative features should be incorporated into descriptions of the budget. For example, if the current year budget is 1.2% higher, or 5% lower, or 14.7% higher than the previous year's budget, it is helpful to citizens to provide this comparative explanation at the beginning of a summary about the budget.
- The city's checkbook register should be posted online. This information provided should include:
- The amount of each payment
- Check number
- To whom the payment was made (including the address)
- Scan of Invoice or Purchase Order or Check Request (this often provides significant drilldown detail including who approved it)
- What it was for
- Budgetary authority for the expenditure
- Functional expenditure category
- Sources of funds
- Links to the relevant contracts under which the payment was made
City government meetings/agendas
The city's website should disclose all city government meetings and agendas for the past 3 years.
- Time of meeting.
- Place of meeting.
- Agendas for all meetings that fall under rules about open meetings (which should be 99% of any government meetings);
- Whether the meeting is open or closed.
- Whether public input is allowed at the meeting and, if so, what the rules are that govern public input.
- Minutes of meetings should be recorded and posted online.
- Text of Real-Time-Captioning if created as part of the video or audio stream
Elected officials and elections
The city's website should disclose key information about the city's elected officials.
- Their names.
- Contact information, including phone numbers and personalized e-mail addresses.
- Terms of office and date of next election.
- If the elected officials are elected in partisan elections, the website should indicate their party affiliation.
- Any financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements that the city requires of its elected officials should be posted online.
- Their Committee appointments.
The city's website should disclose key information about the city's appointed administrators:
- Their names and titles.
- Contact information, including phone numbers and personalized e-mail addresses.
If the city conducts financial and management audits to ensure that it is operating in accordance with the highest standards of financial and management competence and integrity:
- Copies of performance and financial audits should be posted on the city's website for the past 3 years.
- Routine financial audits should be posted online.
- Evaluations of the performance of any specific agencies or commissions should be posted online.
The city's website should provide comprehensive information about active contracts it enters into with vendors.
- The rules the city must abide by when it enters into contracts with outside vendors should be posted on the city's website.
- When the city enters into a bidding process for larger contracts, the request for bids should be posted on the city's website.
- Publicly available information about the bids the city receives should be posted online, keyed to the request for bids the city has previously published.
- Specific contracts the city enters into with outside vendors for any amount over $10,000 should be posted online.
- If elected officials of the city have received campaign contributions from any vendors who sell services to the city, this information should be posted on the city's website.
- Database of registered lobbyists
- Agency lobbying contracts.
- All grants given to non-profit organizations with reason for the grant and a contact in the organization responsible for oversight.
- Any dues paid to government sector lobbying associations, and legislative agendas about what legislation those associations lobbied for or against.
Access to government records and public documents
The city website should include comprehensive information about how citizens can obtain access to public records in the custody of the city.
- When a citizen wants to file an open records request, which employee of the city handles those requests?
- What is that employee's contact information, including name, personalized e-mail, phone number and a mailing address.
- The city website should provide this information in a very easy-to-locate position on their website.
- The city website should lay out the procedure for a citizen to follow who wants access to public records.
- The information should be user-friendly.
- The city website should include an annual rating of its FOIA compliance: How many requests did it receive in a given year, how many did it comply with, the average time required for compliance, and reasons for denials. If the city is currently being sued for failure to provide public documents, this information should be included.
- If the city has been ordered by a judge or public records ombudsman to provide documents it refused to produce in response to a public records request, this information should be a permanent record posted on the city's website.
Problems with your city's grade
If you find that any of the information that is posted on your county's website is false, not up-to-date, or has been taken down please email Ballotpedia's Research Team and let us know. We'll retract the point from the county's score, and lower its transparency score.
However, we do not take away points due to wasteful spending, unanswered FOIA requests, or other "offline" activities—our scores are based solely on the city's website. We do hope that you'll report on these other instances by adding additional information to your city's page, like we have in Houston Independent School District, Texas.
Evaluate your city's website
To find out whether your city is responsible about providing key information to its residents and taxpayers:
- Click on United States.
- Find and click on your state.
- Once you do that, you'll find a navigational bar on the top of the screen.
- That navigational bar has a link to "cities."
- Click on that link to find a list of all the cities in your state.
- When you find your city, the name of your city will appear in either blue or red.
- If it appears in blue, that means someone else has already started writing on Sunshine Review about your city.
- Click on the link to find out what they've written and to add your own information.
- If the article about your city doesn't yet include a link to your city's website, please add that link to the bottom of the page.
Adding information to Sunshine Review
- Log in to your Sunshine Review Account. This will allow you to edit (add information to) a page.
- Look at Alexandria, Louisiana as an example.
- For your city, add information to your city's page on Sunshine Review in the same manner that information was added to the Alexandria, Louisiana page.
If you add a line saying that "no budget was found" or "the city's website has a budget for each of the last three years," you can also link to the place on the city website where you found the budget.
If the city's website has a budget, but it isn't' searchable, or it only includes a budget for one year, or you have any suggestions for improving how the city presents the budget, please note those recommendations or concerns on the Sunshine Review article about your city.