City websites get mixed reviews for transparency
How much did your city spend on private contracts? Can you easily find your city council member's name and phone number? How much did your city set aside for snow removal? If you can't answer those questions, your city may have flunked the transparency test.
The Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank, graded the transparency of Utah's 111 municipalities by analyzing their websites. Most received less than glowing grades.
"This was mainly to follow up with our push for government transparency," said the study's author, Derek H. Monson. "We thought, given the digital age we're in, websites are the primary way governments can communicate with citizens."
Municipal websites were evaluated with a scoring system developed by the Sunshine Review, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit dedicated to transparency in government. The system is based on whether websites contain pertinent information and how easily it can be found.
"There is a correlation between smaller cities and lower grades," Monson said. "But just because a city is small doesn't mean it can't be transparent."
For example, the study highlighted medium-sized Riverton and small Cedar Hills for good marks A minus and B minus, respectively.
Officials for both cities said they have made concerted efforts to make information available to the public.
"It's been a conscious effort on our part to give out more information and be more transparent," said Riverton City Manager Lance Blackwood. "We're trying to be accountable."
Cedar Hills' staff is too small to have a full-time webmaster, said Mayor Eric Richardson. Nonetheless, they've worked hard to make information available to taxpayers. "It's something that always has to be worked on," he said. "At the end of the day, people need information."
One small city that didn't fare as well in the Sutherland analysis is Holladay. It got a C minus.
"We've had a lot of concern about our website. Some of the things we haven't addressed," said City Manager Randy Fitts. "We've got [only] 16 employees and we're on a bare-bones budget."
Nonetheless, Fitts said the analysis is a good idea, and Holladay officials will review it for ways to improve their site.
Logan, one of Utah's larger cities, earned only a D. That grade surprised Logan webmaster Mike Christensen, who said the site has a search device that should make finding the information outlined in the analysis easy to access. "We're only three [mouse] clicks away from anything on our website."
City website report card
The Sutherland Institute used a 10-point checklist to score the Utah cities' websites. Here's how some of them fared. You can see all the grades and the checklist at http://www.sutherlandinsitute.org.
Salt Lake City • A-minus
Sandy • A-minus
Orem • B
Bountiful • C
Logan • D
Grantsville • F