Dallas Morning News: How transparent is your community?

By Bob Mong
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published Jan. 24, 2015

As a citizen, you have the right to inspect vast amounts of public information about how taxpayer dollars are spent. It’s your right. It’s the law.

The law is quite specific about what is available and how quickly information should be delivered to citizens.

Several enterprising Dallas Morning News reporters were determined to find out how well the Texas Public Information Act was being applied by government entities.

In a yearlong project, the reporters sent out and tracked 565 requests to 113 area cities, towns, county governments and school districts.

Project leader Allison Wisk noted that the “real purpose of the study was to determine which provisions of the act are working, and which are not. There seems to be a lack of clarity in terms of how to put the law into practice. We want to shine a light on the issue.”

The team tested how user-friendly government websites are for citizen inspection. The law is clear: With few exceptions, you should be able to log on to your town’s website and find everything from meeting agendas to employee expense reports.

Reporters asked for nothing that wasn’t clearly available by law. I encourage readers to see what our journalists discovered about government transparency where you live. As a citizen, I think you’ll want to know. You can also go to dallasnews.com/records-grades and dig into our interactive report for your town.

I’d like to thank our team of relentlessness journalists who carried out this project from beginning to end: Wisk, Taylor Danser, Nanette Light, Meredith Shamburger, Julissa Treviño and special contributor Andrew Scoggin. Art director Michael Hogue directed the graphics and Jon McLure, Daniel Lathrop, Troy Oxford and John Hancock provided interactive graphics.

McLure and Lathrop also created a Web app, On the Record, that walks citizens through sending an open records request.

See how open your community is.