Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility, a non-partisan taxpayer advocacy organization, has released its first annual survey of local government of transparency in Kent County. We reviewed the web sites of the major government bodies in the county and assigned a letter grade to each based on the amount and subjects of information available to the public. We rated each government body based on the availability of information such as contact detail of board members, availability of budgets and audits, meeting minutes, employee pay scales, and the availability of union contacts, among other subjects. For each category of information available on that government body’s web site, one point was granted. If partial information was available in a category, one half of a point was awarded.
The scores were added up to assign each government body a percentage score based on the total possible points, and then a letter grade was assigned. The governments in Kent County varied widely in the information they made publicly available on their web sites. With the ease of posting such information online, we hope to spur transparency improvements in all local units of government.
We are pleased to report that the highest rating was awarded to the City of Grand Rapids, with a score of 87% and a letter grade of A. The City of Grand Rapids has done an excellent job of posting information for the public’s awareness. Grand Rapids should be an example for all local governments to follow.
On the other end of the scale, we are reporting that the worst grade and the least transparent government body in the county was the Interurban Transit Partnership, which is the local transit agency also known as The Rapid. The Rapid received a numerical score of 23% and a letter grade of D-. We were surprised by how little information The Rapid makes available to the taxpayers of Kent County and we hope that, because of this poor showing, the board of directors of The Rapid dedicates some resources to improving this score in the future.
Despite the wide range of scores across the county, Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility calls on all local units of government to make more information available online and to make such information easier to find. Some government web sites were difficult to navigate and did not store important transparency information in one location. All units of government could do a better job of organizing this information and making it easier to find.
We look forward to annual reviews of government transparency and especially to annual improvements in openness and accountability. We also plan to expand our survey to smaller units of government as we believe that transparency is important across the board.
The full list of scores and criteria applied is available by clicking here.