Is public information a basic right?
One of New Yorks more respected investigative enterprises, SeeThroughNY at the Empire Center finds our local government and school district websites “failing to provide taxpayers with basic, easy-to-find information.”
Among the worst Towns: Mamaroneck, Scarsdale and Rye, with grades of F. New Rochelle received a C. Larchmont and Mamaroneck Villages also received Fs. Rye Brook was rated one of the best.
As far as School Districts, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle and Scarsdale all failed.
They weren’t exactly singled out. “Eighty-five percent of the websites for New York’s largest local governments and school districts are failing to provide taxpayers with basic, easy-to-find information, according to the 2014 SeeThroughNY Local Government Website Report Card, released today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.”
The report card was based on thorough reviews of 500 county, town, city, village and school district websites between July and September. Websites for the state’s most populous counties, municipalities and school districts were rated on the basis of whether they provided items such as contact information, spending data, labor contracts and public meeting records, and the ease with which the items could be located.
“We want to begin a conversation about the level of transparency that the public can expect from the people who spend their tax dollars,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “We hope these standards will help municipalities do a better job of providing basic public information that will help taxpayers know how their money is spent, and how and when decisions are made by elected officials.”
The Empire Center gave each locality and school district in the study the opportunity to view and comment on the rankings before they were released. Reaction from municipal officials was mostly positive, with some even taking immediate action to make improvements to websites, according to Hoefer.
“This project is the beginning of what we think can be a productive discussion of how local officials present data and information to taxpayers,” Hoefer said.
The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt 501(c)3 think tank based in Albany. It sponsors SeeThroughNY.net, a transparency website that includes an extensive database of government payrolls, comparative data and other information.