Sunshine Week Review of Local Government Web Sites

13 Mar

Sunshine Week is March 16-22 this year. This week is dedicated to promoting open government and the tools that we have to ensure access to information about government entities. In Missouri, it is the Sunshine Law that governs what records must be made available. Some cities, counties, and districts are more cooperative than others when it comes to sharing information.

In preparation for Sunshine Week, Watchdog Wire is asking people to review local government websites to see how useful they are to residents, using certain criteria. I’m going to talk a little about some of our local sites.

First we will start in Pevely. Pevely’s website is lacking. It contains no information on the city’s budgets or spending. It only offers alderman meeting agendas for two meetings at a time (usually the next meeting and the last meeting). As new agendas are added, old ones go away. These agendas are pretty bare-bones, too. Furthermore, no board minutes are posted. The addition of the board agendas is pretty recent, too.

The website does feature the names, photos, and e-mail addresses of aldermen. Last time I checked, the newest alderman was not listed, and there were no e-mail addresses, so some progress has been made here. However, we are not told when their terms are up or what their ward boundaries are.

Herculaneum’s site is better. It has board meeting minutes going back to late 2011. It also lists separate phone numbers for most departments, rather than having one central number to call (with an automated menu) to reach everybody. It lists more names of city employees, too. However, it also lacks budget and spending information.

Festus has an even better site. It has maps, including ward maps. It also has budgets going back to 2007, audited financial statements back to 2004, and lots of info on the various taxes you pay there. Online payment of water bills is also offered. But it also does not offer information on city expenditures.

Arnold’s website is better still. In addition to board minutes and agendas back to 2006, council packets are posted (as of now, they go back to January.) It would be nice if the packets were posted for a longer time period. Video of each meeting is also posted, back to 2010. This is the ultimate in openness, as it allows those who can’t make the meetings to watch the proceedings at their own convenience. I believe that it was Doris Borgelt who pushed for this to happen.

There is a lot of information on the city’s finance page. There are annual financial reports back to 2005, budgets to 2011, and general and payroll warrants back to 2012. The site also lists e-mail addresses of a number of department heads.

Of course, this is only a partial list of local governments. But it should give you an idea of what features you should expect to see on the websites of the entities that are relevant to you. You’re paying for all this government; you should be able to easily see what it is up to.

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