It’s been a little over six months since we rated Kennesaw on a transparency scale. See Defining & Ranking Transparency. We, and others, have brought many deficiencies to the attention of the city of Kennesaw administration regarding the requirements of Georgia’s Open Records Laws. Repeatedly, Mayor Mark Mathews and other members of the council have openly stated that Kennesaw is “very transparent” in a number of public venues. Other sources providing comments related to transparency. Most often these comments have been statements made defending low employee morale, open records violations, or other types of issues brought into the open by citizens or current employees.
The city of Kennesaw was trained on the new Open Records Act and the changes that were made. They were encouraged to have a dedicated person to respond to open record requests. They were trained to put up agendas and minutes within specified time frames for each board and committee. At the time of our previous report, Kennesaw had achieved a mediocre rating at best. Let’s see if they have improved.
“A transparency checklist is a list of website transparency features that citizens in any part of the United States should be able to find when they visit the websites of counties, cities, school districts, and state agencies.” http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Transparency_Checklist
Here are the things that should be prominently displayed on the Kennesaw website in order to score highly on the transparency checklist:
The city website should include detailed budget information including
- The budget for the current fiscal year should be posted online.
- Budgets for previous years should be posted online.
- It should be very easy for people to find this information when they visit the website. This means that prominent navigational features enabling someone to locate the budget should be included on the homepage of the website.
- The city’s checkbook register should be posted online. This information provided should include:
- The amount of each payment
- Check number
- To whom the payment was made (including the address)
- Scan of Invoice or Purchase Order or Check Request (this often provides significant drilldown detail including who approved it)
- What it was for
- Budgetary authority for the expenditure
- Functional expenditure category
- Sources of funds
- Links to the relevant contracts under which the payment was made
Rationale: Budgets show the big picture of what goals and priorities the government established for the year. Budgets details also serve as a way for taxpayers to determine how the government performed in relation to past years. This is all taxpayer money. It’s essential that taxpayers see how the government is spending in relation to the overall budget.
While the city does have the checkbook register posted, there is no detailed information listed, including purchase orders or check requests. There were past budgets found and they were easy to read. They were a bit hard to locate. They were not located on the home page and the Search tool on the Home page did not locate them either. It took 7 minutes to locate them as they were in another department.
City government meetings/agendas
The city’s website should disclose all city government meetings and agendas.
- Time of meeting.
- Place of meeting.
- Agendas for all meetings that fall under rules about open meetings (which should be 99% of any government meetings);
- Whether the meeting is open or closed.
- Whether public input is allowed at the meeting and, if so, what the rules are that govern public input.
- Minutes of meetings should be recorded and posted online.
- Text of Real-Time-Captioning if created as part of the video or audio stream
Rationale: Meetings are one of the few ways the public can engage in true dialogue with council. Given the reality of busy schedules, governments should offer an alternative to meeting attendance by posting meetings, agendas, locations and minutes on their website. Given the invent of technology, governments should also consider online meetings or other unique ways to connect with their constituents.
There was a public meeting schedule posted and easy to locate. There was a calendar right off the front of the website with meetings listed. On a Boards and Commissions page, there were Minutes listed for the last meeting held.
Elected officials and elections
The city’s website should disclose key information about the city’s elected officials.
- Their names.
- Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
- Terms of office and date of next election.
- Any financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements that the city requires of its elected officials should be posted online.
- Their Committee appointments.
No mention of any financial disclosures or conflict of interest statements were listed. There were no committee appointments that we found. In light of recent ethics charges being filed against at least one of the officials, there should have been some notice on this site about that information. This is key to transparency. We wrote about this with Mayor Mathews and with Councilwoman Welsh both of whom had statements made. One who waited until it was out in the public to come clean and the other who attempted to appear pro-active to head off her own ethics violation charges. Any elected official should have this type of information listed on their page on the website.
The city’s website should disclose key information about the city’s appointed administrators:
- Their names and titles.
- Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
All contact information was easy to locate.
City conducts financial and management audits to ensure that it is operating in accordance with the highest standards of financial and management competence and integrity:
- Copies of performance and financial audits should be posted on the city’s website.
- Routine financial audits should be posted online.
- Evaluations of the performance of any specific agencies or commissions should be posted online.
We could find no audits listed online.
The city’s website should provide comprehensive information about the contracts it enters into with vendors.
- The rules the city must abide by when it enters into contracts with outside vendors should be posted on the city’s website.
- When the city enters into a bidding process for larger contracts, the request for bids should be posted on the city’s website.
- Publicly available information about the bids the city receives should be posted online, keyed to the request for bids the city has previously published.
- Specific contracts the city enters into with outside vendors for any amount over $10,000 should be posted online.
- If elected officials of the city have received campaign contributions from any vendors who sell services to the city, this information should be posted on the city’s website.
We found no language at all about bids or contracts.
- If the city enters into a contract with a lobbyist or lobbying firm, full details of this arrangement must be posted on the city’s website, including the name of the lobbyist or lobbying firm, the amount paid to the lobbyist or firm, and the legislation that the lobbyist is advocating for on the taxpayer’s dime.
- If the city pays dues to belong to any lobbying associations, full details of these arrangements should be included on the city’s website, including the name of the association, the amount paid in dues, and an identification of what positions that lobbying association is taking with the money it has received from the city’s taxpayers via the dues paid to it by the city.
- If the city gives grants to non-profit organizations, these grants should be disclosed on the city’s website with a reason for the grant and information about who in the non-profit organization is responsible for oversight and administration of the funds it has received from the city’s taxpayers via a grant from the city.
Incomplete – We are unable to locate anything about this.
Building permits and zoning: At the very least applications should be available to be downloaded online. In addition, constituents should be able to submit applications and track the process online.
Rationale: Almost all government application processes are already digitalized. By facilitating the process online government should cut down on cost and time barriers as well as improving communication and service to their constituents.
How To Access to government records and public documents
The city website should include comprehensive information about how citizens can obtain access to public records in the custody of the city.
- When a citizen wants to file an open records request, which employee of the city handles those requests?
- What is that employee’s contact information?
- The city website should provide this information in a very easy-to-locate position on their website.
- The city website should lay out the procedure for a citizen to follow who wants access to public records.
- The information should be user-friendly.
We found this information readily available and easy to use. The website even contained a helpful Open Records Request Form, and it has been updated to contain the latest changes in the law.
The transparency level for the Kennesaw website is an Incomplete, however it has improved. The improvement was also in a key area. Some of the items on the list are less important than others but those under the heading of City Government Meetings and Agendas are mandatory by law and must be posted to be in compliance with Open Records & Open Meetings Laws. Because of this compliance, we would rate them about a B-.
What would it take for them to earn and A? Let’s look at an A site from our area. Cobb County earned an award for their transparency using the same checklist. As you can see, they provided much of the same information but in a more detailed manner.
We are making some progress, Kennesaw! Stay involved! You CAN make a difference!