Thursday, March 8, 2012

County scores A- for transparency

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Things are so bright at the county, you have to wear shades.
  • Things are so bright at the county, you have to wear shades.

El Paso County stands among the most transparent government agencies in the country, according to an analysis by Sunshine Review.

The nonprofit gave the county an A- based on how it discloses information to taxpayers.

The Sunshine Review's website states:

“The Sunny Awards recognizes governments that are doing an exemplary job at proactively disclosing information to taxpayers,” said Michael Barnhart, President of Sunshine Review. “There are so many organizations and associations that highlight what is wrong with government. We at Sunshine Review are proud to acknowledge those who are doing it right and setting a transparency standard that all governments can, and should, meet.”

For the 2012 awards, Editors at Sunshine Review analyzed more than 6,000 government websites and graded each on a 10-point transparency checklist. Editors looked at content available on government websites against what should be provided. They sought information on items such as budgets, meetings, lobbying, financial audits, contracts, academic performance, public records and taxes. The winners of the Sunny Award all received an “A” grade during the extensive grading process.

El Paso County has long broadcast its county commissioner meetings online and makes recordings of past meetings available on its website. The Independent can vouch for the county's compliance with open records laws, having had few problems obtaining information and records in a timely way, though some departments charge considerable amounts for the records.

Commission Chair Amy Lathen
says she found out about the grade some time ago and has been touting it ever since.

"This is simple," she writes in an e-mail. "We don't just give lip service to our efforts to be transparent. We actually make it happen. We have worked not only on processes to make everything transparent, but also on a philosophical change throughout the county. There is nothing hiding in El Paso County and we mean it when we say we are an open book.

"I am hoping to change the A- to an A+ as we work to implement the 'checkbook online' project. I asked for this last summer and our IT folks are working on making the budget and spending items even more accessible. Budgeting is already public and we'll bend over backwards to make sure folks have the info they need or desire. This project will make that even simpler."

(The 'checkbook' project that Lathen references, according to her website, is meant to ensure taxpayer access to ALL expenditures in a simple and more accessible way.)

While elected officials — such as commissioners, Assessor Mark Lowderman and Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams — set the tone, the person charged with carrying out the policy is Dave Rose.

Rose: Media expert
  • Rose: Media expert.

Rose joined the county as public information officer in 2008 after working for more than 30 years in television and radio news. He served as television news director at KRDO TV in Colorado Springs from 1996 to 2008, was CEO of the Business Radio Network from 1987 to 1995 and worked as news director at KOAA TV from 1980 to 1987. He won the regional Edward R. Murrow Award for best Television News Documentary and was recognized more recently with a special recognition award from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce for Leadership in the Public Sector.

At the county, Rose handles public communications, citizens’ outreach and intergovernmental relations.

Others in Colorado named on the A list were Adams County, Denver County 1 School District, Douglas County, Jefferson County Public Schools and Mesa County Valley School District 51.

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