Brent Finnegan -- February 5th, 2010
Are local governments doing a good job making the information you have a right to know publicly available on their websites? According to Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, “Localities in Virginia were generally dismal in their efforts at online financial transparency.”
How do Harrisonburg and Rockingham County compare to other local governments when it comes to budgetary transparency?
The Jefferson Institute recently conducted a survey comparing the information available on local government websites. Their transparency grading scale [PDF] takes into account various factors, such as the level of detail in local budget information, and interface navigability.
Harrisonburg scored 40 out of 100 points (ranking 50th of 134), while Rockingham County scored 35.
The highest grade in the survey was 80 out of 100 points and only 20 localities scored more than 50 points. On the other side 22 localities scored zero points and another 13 scored fewer than 20 points . . .
Generally speaking, high population counties scored the best, with the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William leading the way, while 23 counties and cities scored zero in this analysis. “Scoring zero means that the citizens have no online ability to see how their tax money is being spent. In this day and age that is really inexcusable,” said [Jeremy Beales, a Visiting Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson Institute].
Harrisonburg Public Information Officer Miriam Dickler responded to the release:
Our limitations for posting more information on the website is largely time and resources. While we probably already generate most of the information/reports that are being referenced in the report, it would take staff time and resources to properly post, update and maintain the on-line information, and we don’t currently have excess staffing capacity to do that.
While we now have a web editor again after a long spell without one, her primary job is overall maintenance and not updating departmental information. That responsibility falls to departments themselves and none of our departments have an individual who is tasked solely with web maintenance. We are happy to provide information to individuals who might contact us for something that they cannot find on our website.
Should we be directed to provide more information on the website by council, certainly we would do that.
Have you found (or tried to find) information about local budgets on the Harrisonburg or Rockingham County website? What has your experience been?