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FL: How are St Johns County governments measuring up?

During Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2014, citizen journalists across the country will be participating with Historic City News and Florida’s Watchdog Wire contributors to audit their local city and county government websites; evaluating them on their usefulness based on a set of objective standards.

In March 2012, the St Johns County School District received high marks for improvements made to its website during judging for the Third Annual Sunny Awards by the non-profit organization, Sunshine Review. Public access to information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes were considered during the extensive grading process. The St Johns County School District received an “A+” for its website and St Johns County received an “A-” for their website.

“I am confident the county’s website will continue to empower citizens by providing more information necessary to keep them informed and engaged in the business of their government,” County Administrator Michael D. Wanchick commented.

This year, the City of St Augustine, the City of St Augustine Beach, St Johns County, and the St Johns County School District websites will be audited for the following:

ACCESSIBILITY:

Does the website have an easy-to-use search function?

Is there a map or link to a good map of the actual municipal limits? Many people do not actually know they are not residents of the actual city but live in an adjoining township and are erroneously complaining to the wrong place.

Ability to read and pay bills online easily

CONTENT:

Does the website have video from local meetings? Can you link to them?
Are their transcripts and minutes? Are they archived and can you download and print them?

Are the city budget, comprehensive annual financial reports, and checkbook available online? Is there a database of all public spending? Are these easily accessible or do you specifically have to request access?

Their Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR), which are different from their budgets

Is their checkbook online?

Database of all public spending?

Is there a public information officer listed on the website to help with open record requests?

Is there basic information on area population, demographics, businesses, climate, churches, recreation opportunities, schools etc? Anything you want to know that is missing or not readily available?

Pertinent information about elected officials, like year elected, the next time they’re up for re-election, party affiliation (if applicable), and their jurisdiction.

Information about subcommittees and boards: Economic Development, tourism, beautification, TIFA, utility, library etc. Even ones with no spending authority often have regulatory suggestions that become ordinances or rules

Upcoming agendas for all meetings (not just main but subcommittees)

A calendar of meeting notices with all upcoming meetings and locations

Audio and minutes of past meetings, archived

Video streaming page for live meetings

Voting records of all voting members of the Board

All recent audits

Contract information

Salaries and full compensation of all public employees

TRANSPARENCY:

Is there a public information officer listed on the website to help with open record requests?

Do they list all of the city boards and their members (downtown development, historic preservation, public safety, etc.) Information on any appointed officials, their terms, authority, duties

Do they list vendor contracts used by the city?

Do they list permitting services?

Do they list pension benefits?

Ethics rules and means to address grievances

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Does the website list emails and phone numbers for city officials? When you call the contact number, do you get a real person willing to help?

Are all departments listed or only a few?

Addresses, hours, and accessibility of departments listed?

You can be an evaluator, too! Help the Watchdog Wire score your local government website using a quick and easy formatted questionnaire form.

Michael Gold

As the Florida editor for Watchdog Wire, my goal is to work with other citizen journalists, like you, to help compensate for the lack of mainstream news reporting to expose waste, fraud and abuse that exists in government. My colleagues at Franklin Center, and peers in the Citizen Watchdog movement, share a belief that government transparency and accountability is not a conservative or liberal idea – it is an American idea. A free flow of information is essential to maintaining our free republic, and that starts with a free press — and that starts with you.

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Categories: Education, Government Transparency, Must Read, News, Policy
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