Let the Sunshine In: County Leaders Hear How to Improve Government Transparency

By Caleb Taylor

How can Arkansas counties improve their online transparency?

Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) Policy Analyst Mavuto Kalulu and ACRE Program Coordinator Terra Aquia discussed this and the findings of a new Transparency Index at the County Judges 2018 Fall meeting on September 14th in North Little Rock. County Judges are the chief executives of county governments in Arkansas.

This inaugural index ranks all Arkansas counties by how much financial, political and administrative information their websites contain, Kalulu told a crowd of about 60 county officials.

Kalulu and Aquia note in the report that Arkansas counties earned an F grade in the  2013 Transparency Report Card produced by the Sunshine Review. They also note that only 8 of 75 Arkansas counties published budgets online for 2017–2018.

While counties have room for improvement in web transparency, Kalulu stressed that index wasn’t released to criticize counties lagging behind. Instead, counties should use the report as a diagnosis to improve.

Kalulu said:

We just want to see where we are. What we’re more interested in is where we go from here. Improvement is what’s so important for us, but you still have to start from somewhere.“

Why the focus on web transparency? Aquia explained that the report focuses on web transparency because studies show that a majority of individuals use the internet as their primary way to access information. Further,  internet usage in Arkansas has increased over the last decade. Therefore, counties should leverage online resources to ensure their constituents are well-informed about all the important decisions occurring at the county level.

Aquia said:

More Arkansans are using the internet to get their information. In 2013, only 16 percent of Arkansas had high-speed wireless internet capabilities in their areas. Just three years after that, that number had jumped to 58 percent. That type of jump in a three-year period is pretty amazing.”

The recommendations Aquia offered to county officials interested in improving their web transparency are:

  • Take a look at where your county ranks and what information they publish using the Transparency Index.
  • Utilize resources available to county governments on arkansas.gov.
  • See what information is available on Arkansas Municipal League and Association of Arkansas Counties websites.
  • Actively promote openness and transparency by letting citizens know about online resources available.

Coverage of the Transparency Index recently appeared in both mysaline.com and the Log Cabin Democrat.

In addition to Kalulu and Aquia, the report was also authored by Joyce Ajayi, a candidate in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Leadership Studies program at the University of Central Arkansas.