A couple weeks back, we took our 50 States of FOIA look at Florida, and how they enjoy some of the strongest transparency laws in the country. But you need more than just strong laws to offer truly open government - you need organizations like the First Amendment Foundation that ensure agencies aren’t just offering convenient transparency, but true access.
In early 2014, the FAF conducted a statewide survey of various local agencies’ websites, issuing each one a transparency report card.
“Governments frequently talk about transparency,” explained Katherine Garner, the executive director of the FAF. “We wanted to see if their websites were actually living up to these statements.”
The foundation assigned scores based on the amount of commonly requested documents available, like budgets, meeting minutes, and crime reports, as well as other categories like contact information and website functionality.
The original results revealed cloudiness in the Sunshine State:
“While most websites offered convenient links to everyday functions – seeking a permit, finding a park or bidding for a government contract – few made it easy for citizens to request public records.
And while almost every government posted its annual budget and detailed agendas for elected and appointed boards, records critical to understanding how a government operates – from financial analyses and a copy of its checkbook, to databases of vendors and financial disclosure forms filed by elected and appointed officials – were mostly unavailable.”
Highest and lowest ranked cities and counties, according to the survey - note that Jacksonville ranked highest among city website, but was still short of a perfect score.
But local agencies’ reactions to the project point towards definite progress.
“The cities really took it seriously,” said Katherine. “Most were concerned when their scores weren’t as high as they thought they should be, and they came back to us and asked what they could do to fix it. We even had others that weren’t part of the survey ask to be on the next one.”
Public attention is a key component in shifting governments’ attitudes towards transparency. Take a look at the survey’s results on the FAF’s website, and if you’re interested in conducting a similar survey in your state, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image via First Amendment Foundation