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Monday, April 11, 2016

Website "Transparency" Bill Moves Forward

There have been a number of bills introduced in this session that would establish new obligations for local governments with respect to website posting. One of those, HB 5522, just passed first reading in the House, so may be one of the bills that has some traction.  

This bill not only requires local governments and school districts to post certain information on existing websites, it also requires all local governments and school districts with a budget of more than $1 million to establish a website. That could be financially devastating to some units of government who are already operating on bare-bones budgets because of the potential threat from the state of a loss of LGDF funds.

Some of the posting requirements are already duplicative of other state law requirements. For example, the law requires posting of contact information for elected officials (already required). It also requires posting of agendas and minutes for board meetings (already required). The bill, if passed, would require the posting of information regarding compliance with FOIA (already required). 

In addition to these duplicate posting requirements, the bill would require that the following documents be posted on websites:

1.  Agenda packets for board meetings
2.  Annual budget/appropriation
3.  All ordinances under which the unit of government operates
4.  Procedures for applying for building permits and zoning variances (oddly, the bill doesn't discuss all of the other types of permits or zoning relief)
5.  Financial reports and audits.
6.  Salary and compensation information for all employees
7. Lobbying contracts
8. Taxes and fees imposed by the unit of government (which presumably would already be included in #3)
9. Rules governing the award of contracts
10.  Bids and contracts worth $25,000 or more
11.  A debt disclosure report
12.  Public notices

With respect to #12, the bill would allow a unit of government to publish, in lieu of publishing any required notice in the newspaper (1) a citation to the statute that requires the publication notice and (2) the website where the notice can be accessed.

The enforcement provisions allow any citizen or taxpayer to file a lawsuit seeking a court order for the unit of government to comply with the law. The bill would also allow the court to impose penalties and award attorneys fees to the prevailing citizen or taxpayer.

The posting obligations are staggering for most local governments, both from a financial and manning perspective as these obligations will require ongoing updates and maintenance.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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