Bloomington, Ill., Codifies Website Transparency Policy

The Bloomington City Council has expanded the amount of public documents it posts online.

by / September 2, 2014
Though much of the city's information is already in its transparency portal, the city wants to improve on some facets, including establishing a separate area on the website for city contracts and expanded data on local taxes.

Bloomington, Ill., has codified its commitment to government transparency and open data.

The Bloomington City Council adopted an ordinance requiring elected officials’ contact information, financial reports, employee salaries, contracts, construction and building permits, and other documents be posted on the city’s website. Approved on Aug. 25, the new law also mandates that those files remain online for at least five years. The ordinance goes into effect on Oct. 1.

In an email to Government Technology, Nora Dukowitz, communication manager for Bloomington, said much of the information is already on the city's website, in its transparency portal. She added, however, that some facets the city wants to improve on include establishing a separate area on the website for city contracts – which are currently included in city council packets and posted proceedings – and expanded data on local taxes.

The transparency ordinance was based on a checklist used by the Illinois Policy Institute to rank how transparent cities are to residents. The institute recognized Bloomington earlier this year with a Sunshine Award for its improvement in online openness, according to Pantagraph.com. The city earned 88.7 points out of a possible 100 in 2013, a 30-point jump from its 2011 score.

Bloomington receives approximately 1,200 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests annually, according to Dukowitz. But she wasn’t sure what impact the new ordinance would have on the frequency of those inquiries.

“We are always hopeful that people will help themselves to the wealth of information on our website,” Dukowitz said. “It is difficult to tell at this early stage of the ordinance’s passage if it will decrease the number or complexity of FOIA requests.”

Approval of the ordinance wasn’t unanimous. Alderman Kevin Lower voted it down – but not because he’s against transparency. He told Pantagraph.com that his dissent was over concerns that the document retention time was too short and he was unhappy that the ordinance didn’t include a requirement that city meetings be live-streamed over the Internet.

Dukowitz, however, explained that while the ordinance requires a five-year retention period, there is nothing preventing the city for keeping data longer. She pointed out that Bloomington currently has nine years of council agendas posted online.

As for the concern over live-streaming, Dukowitz admitted that the city focused its policy on the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency checklist, which didn’t include live-streaming.

“It’s a possibility to consider [it] in the future,” she said.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.