Nonprofit Invites Public to Rate Local Government Transparency

CC BY-SA HonestReporting.com, flickr/freepress

A nonprofit government accountability group launched a website this week that encourages the public to help rate the accessibility of local municipalities and school districts across New York State.

Reclaim New York, the group spearheading the effort, issued an open invitation for concerned citizens to help evaluate more than 2,000 government entities, including counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts on Long Island. Organizers call it the Online Transparency Index.

“Now, every New Yorker can get involved and show whether their local government is open and transparent, or operating in the shadows,” said Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York.

The group made news last year when it requested spending records from more than 200 municipalities, agencies and districts on LI in order to create a Local Government Spending Database that tracks how the entities use taxpayer funds. The group took those that refused to to comply with records requests court, where some of the efforts to get the documents released are still pending.

The two databases are part of the nonprofit’s New York Transparency Project. The latest effort empowers approved users to measure the openness of municipalities and districts on up to 29 indicators, such as whether they properly publicize scheduled meetings in advance, if they proactively post records online and how easy it is to find officials’ contact information, among other factors. The results, once processed by website administrators, will result in percent grades for each entity. As of this story, only a few of the agencies have been graded.

The effort is similar, but unrelated to a recently released Long Island Open Records Report Card, a 16-month joint project between the Long Island Press and the Press Club of Long Island, which issued percent and letter grades to nearly 200 Nassau and Suffolk county agencies as well as towns, cities and villages, but not school districts. In that project, agencies and municipalities were graded on their responsiveness to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

The cumulative grade for the region was a ‘C.’

Both the report card and the Reclaim New York project were released Monday at the start of Sunshine Week, an annual national initiative highlighting the importance of access to public records.