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Almost halfway there

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn shooting for 100 percent transparency

  Oak Lawn will receive a progress report Tuesday on its goal to improve governmental transparency.

  The Illinois Policy Institute will release its online transparency audit for the largest 25 communities in the state by population. Oak Lawn is No. 23 on the population list.
  Mayor Sandra Bury said that in October, the village’s score was a 41.5.
  “This is what we inherited,” Bury said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re just starting the process. It’s not going to come overnight.”
  Orland Park in 2011 became the first governmental entity to receive a perfect score on the institute’s Local Transparency Project. The village maintained that score on the upcoming audit, Village Clerk Joe La Margo said.
  “That’s our goal, too,” Oak Lawn Village Clerk Jane Quinlan said.
  The village expects to have a redesigned website up and running before the end of the year, Quinlan said. The new, easier-to-navigate site will give residents access to the information recommended by the IPI, she said.
  “We’ll then have the capabilities for all this. It will be easier to follow,” Quinlan said.
  The village already posts on its website much of the information recommended by the IPI, but the site is difficult to navigate, Quinlan said.
  Garnering a respectable score on the audit is not especially difficult, but getting a top score takes some time and effort, said Brian Costin, the IPI’s the director of government reform.
  For example, posting annual documents such as budgets and audits as well the contact information for municipal officials can secure an 80-percent figure on the survey, Costin said.
  “You can get a pretty decent score without expending a whole lot of effort,” Costin said. “The categories that are a little harder are meeting minutes and board packets.”
  LeMargo said achieving the perfect score was a time-consuming process, but he praised the IPI for its assistance.
  “They gave us a lot of guidance,” LeMargo said.
  Organizing and posting archival information was the most difficult part of the process, he said, adding that the village spent five months gathering and organizing the information for the website required on the IPI’s checklist.
  Transparency has been at the center of political debate in Oak Lawn, as critics of Bury repeatedly chastise her for talking about the issue but failing to take action.
  Trustee Robert Streit recently proposed his own ordinance calling for website transparency.
  “My ordinance would codify the need for transparency and what our website, at the minimum, should contain,” said Streit, who proposed the ordinance at the Oct. 22 village board meeting.
  But the village’s legislative, license and ethics committee on Aug. 20 discussed implementation of the transparency checklist, which includes many of the same points listed in Streit’s proposed ordinance.
  Although the committee has discussed a transparency checklist, Streit said no action has been taken.
  “I have not seen any proposal from the mayor regarding transparency,” he said. “I also never saw any campaign literature that set forth a comprehensive transparency plan for the website. That is why I proposed my own ordinance.”
  Streit’s proposed ordinance, which was not discussed at the board meeting, calls for the village website to include:
  • Contact information for elected and administrative officials;
  • Meeting information, including village board meeting packets and videos of meetings;
  • Public records, including information regarding the submission of freedom of information requests;
  • Village budgets and audits as well as fund expenditures for the past five years;
  • TIF expenditures;
  • Salary and benefits for village employees and officials;
  • Contract bids and proposals;
  • The names of lobbying associations that village funded within the past five years;
  • Information on tax rates;
  • The names of contractors who do business with the village as well as information regarding building and zoning applications.
  Streit said his ordinance calls on the village to do than required by the IPI’s checklist.
  “For instance, I placed a provision on the ordinance that requires (a recording of) the board meetings placed on the website. I also placed a provision on the ordinance that requires the site to have a language conversion button for Spanish and Polish,” Streit said.
  The Illinois Policy Institute in October issued a transparency report for the state’s 102 counties. The report found that 22 counties do not have websites. The 81 counties with websites had an average score of 32.8 on the audit.
  Additionally, 90 counties failed the institute’s 10-point transparency check list, and only three scored 90 percent or higher.