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Website Content for Local Agencies to Consider: A Checklist


This article is a service of the Institute for Local Government (ILG), whose mission is to promote good government at the local level with practical, impartial and easy-to-use resources for California communities. See “Acknowledging Contributors” below for a list of individuals who contributed to this article. For more information about ILG, visit www.ca-ilg.org.


 This checklist provides a general guide to the types of information local agencies can provide that support transparency. This checklist accompanies the Everyday Ethics for Local Officials article "Local Agency Opportunities for Website Transparency."

 Decision-Making Information

  • Information on agency decision-making and advisory bodies (governing body, boards and commissions), including:
    • An explanation of the local agency’s decision-making process and how to participate in it1
    • A brief explanation of how each body fits into the decision-making process
    • The work program for each body or equivalent (for example, the planning commission is updating a historical preservation ordinance, or the recycling and waste reduction commission is crafting a commercial recycling ordinance)
    • The performance measures used to assess the agency’s performance in relation to its goals2
    • The regular meeting schedule for each body
    • Any meeting rules or protocols adopted by the agency
  • Agendas and supporting materials for upcoming meetings3
  • Meeting notices, agendas, documents and minutes for all upcoming and ongoing agency public engagement activities (translated into other languages as appropriate to the community)
  • Minutes and agendas for past meetings
  • Archive of video/audio recordings of meetings, if meetings are recorded
  • Explanation of how an interested member of the public can participate in meetings4
  • How to apply to be on a board, commission or committee5
  • How to receive e-mail notices and agendas for meetings6
  • Contact information for staff who can answer questions about any of the posted decision-making information and provide additional information

Financial and Human Resources Information

  • Current-year budget and explanatory information, including past years’ information, budget trends and the governing body’s resolution adopting the current budget7
  • Graphs and charts describing the budget and budget trends
  • Explanations of various agency revenue sources, restrictions on how such revenues may be used, and revenue trends8
  • Comprehensive annual financial reports9
  • Annual audits for the past three years
  • Multiple-year financial forecast
  • Treasurer’s monthly reports10
  • Salary and compensation information, including11:
    • Elected officials’ salary and compensation
    • Salary plan and salaries for agency employees12
    • Pension and other post-employment benefit costs13
    • Resolutions establishing compensation
  • Job descriptions
  • Contracts and purchasing14
    • Current contracts, including:
      • Consultants
      • Legal counsel
      • Top-earning administrators
      • Bargaining units
      • Lobbyists
      • Nonprofits15
    • Current requests for proposals (RFPs) and requests for qualifications:
      • A list of submitted RFPs
      • The results for submitted RFPs (which firm was selected to do the work)
    • Purchasing policies16
    • Information on doing business with the agency
  • Other spending information, including:
    • Check register or equivalent (for example, an annual list generated from accounts payable that shows who was paid and how much)
    • Legal settlements and judgments
  • Labor agreements, personnel rules and all non-confidential documents controlling, prescribing or describing rules that govern pay and benefits received by local agency employees17
  • Financial policies, including those that address:
    • Investment
    • Credit card use
    • Reserves
    • Travel/expense reimbursement
    • Petty cash
    • Internal controls/financial checks and balances
  • Contact information for staff who can answer questions about any of the posted financial and human resources information and provide additional information

Permits and Zoning

  • Land-use permitting, including:
    • Permit information and application forms
    • Regulations
    • General Plan, General Plan updates and any Specific Plans
    • Zoning codes
    • Design review standards
    • Staff contact information
    • Hours of operation, including a list of scheduled closures and legal holidays
    • Decision-making body meeting schedules, agendas and minutes
    • How to participate in the planning process18
  • Building permits, including:
    • Information about building codes and any local deviations
    • Permit information and forms
    • Staff contact information
    • Hours of operation, including a list of scheduled closures and legal holidays
    • How to schedule inspections
  • Code enforcement, including:
    • Property maintenance regulations
    • Code enforcement request forms
    • A current case list of properties with code violations
    • Staff directory
    • Hours of operation, including list of scheduled closures and legal holidays
  • Contact information for staff who can answer questions about any of the posted permit and zoning information and provide additional information

Note: Providing permitting and code enforcement records by address/parcel number is an additional option. Some agencies also make information available through geographic information systems (GIS)19 that provide multiple kinds of information about specific places in
the jurisdiction.

Elected Officials’ Information20

  • Names
  • Biographies
  • Terms (including term limitations)
  • Represented areas and district boundaries (if applicable)
  • Information on the powers, duties and functions of the elected position
  • Contact information (phone and e-mail)
  • How to run for office/election information
  • Voter registration information

Disclosure, Public Service Ethics and Transparency

  • Form 700s/Statement of Economic Interests
  • Campaign disclosure forms (and/or links to other agency sites where such information is maintained) and links to FPPC explanatory materials21
  • Other required disclosures, including:
    • Form 801/Gifts to Agency22
    • Form 802/Tickets in Connection with Ceremonial Functions23
    • Form 803/Fundraising Disclosure24
    • Form 806/Agency Report of Public Official Appointments25
  • Local conflict-of-interest code and explanation26
  • How to find public records, including:
    • What records are available online
    • How to request a public record, with
      • Contact person and contact information
      • Request form
      • Process explanation27
  • AB 1234 ethics training compliance information
  • Other local ethics regulations/information
  • Information about participation in lobbying activities/organizations28
  • Approved whistle-blower policy
  • Approved document retention policy

News

  • Sign up for any agency e-bulletins or media releases
  • Links to agency official blogs and social media accounts (for example, Facebook and Twitter)
  • Links to past and current media releases
  • Sign up for emergency information

Other

  • Information about key agency positions, including:
    • Their powers, functions and roles
    • How to contact those offices by phone and e-mail
  • Municipal code and policies (ideally in searchable form)
  • Service requests, compliments and complaint submittal information
  • General contact information for help in navigating the website

Acknowledging Contributors, Welcoming Your Feedback

The Institute for Local Government (ILG) thanks the City Managers Department’s Government Transparency and Civic Engagement Subcommittee members for their advice on this topic. These individuals also contributed to this article:

  • Chris Andis, public information officer, Sacramento County;
  • Troy L. Butzlaff, city administrator, Placentia;
  • Sonia Carvalho, partner, Best Best & Krieger;
  • Fran David, city manager, Hayward;
  • Donald M. Davis, partner, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP;
  • Elizabeth Emmett, public information officer, Napa County;
  • Steven Falk, city manager, Lafayette;
  • Jeff Gardner, city manager/finance director, Plymouth;
  • Stephen J. Kimbrough, retired city manager, Corning;
  • Wendy Klock-Johnson, assistant city clerk, Sacramento;
  • Jonathan P. Lowell, city attorney, Pleasanton;
  • Brian M. Libow, city attorney, San Pablo;
  • Steve Mattas, partner, Meyers Nave;
  • Gary Nordquist, assistant city manager, Wildomar;
  • Gregory P. Priamos, city attorney, Riverside;
  • Anthony Santos, senior management analyst, Diamond Bar;
  • Grover Trask, counsel, Best Best & Krieger; and
  • Jayne Williams, partner, Meyers Nave.

ILG also thanks Shannon Bowley, ILG fellow and master’s of public policy candidate at California State University, Sacramento, for her assistance with this article.

ILG is the nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education affiliate of the League and the California State Association of Counties.

Your feedback on this article is welcome. Share your thoughts via:

  • E-mail — info@ca-ilg.org or jspeers@ca-ilg.org. Please include “Local Agency Website Transparency Opportunities” in the subject line;
  • Fax — (916) 444-7535, Attn: JoAnne Speers; or
  • Mail — Institute for Local Government, Attn: JoAnne Speers, 1400 K Street, Suite 205, Sacramento, CA 95814.

1 In addition to the specifics of the agency’s process, the Institute for Local Government offers a booklet called Understanding the Basics of Local Agency Decision-making available at www.ca-ilg.org/decisionmaking that local agencies are welcome to link to.

2 GFOA Recommended Best Practice: Performance Management: Using Performance Management for Decision Making, http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/budgetperfmanagement.pdf for suggested measures.

3 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 54954.1.54954.2(a)(1)(requiring posting on website, if agency has one).

4 The Institute for Local Government offers a tipsheet called Working Effectively with Local Officials http://www.ca-ilg.org/effective that local agencies are welcome to link to. Another useful resource to include on this page might be the League of California Cities’ booklet on the open meetings law called Open and Public: A User’s Guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act, available at http://www.cacities.org/Resources-Documents/Member-Engagement/Professional-Departments/City-Attorneys/Publications/Open-Public-IV_-A-Guide-to-the-Ralph-M-Brown-Act-(

5 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 54972.

6 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 54954.1 (right to request mailed copies of agendas).

7 Financial Reports (2003), http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/caafr-budgets-to-websites.pdf. See also http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/websitepresentation.pdf.

8 Local agencies are welcome to add context to their agency specific information by linking to the Institute for Local Government’s Understanding the Basics of County and City Revenues, available at www.ca-ilg.org/revenuebasics.

9 GFOA Recommendations: Adoption of Financial Policies, with cross references to National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting (NACSLB), http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/budgetAdoptionofFinancialPolicies.pdf.

10 Local agencies are welcome to add context to their agency specific information by linking to the Institute for Local Government’s Financial Management for Elected Officials: Questions to Ask, available at www.ca-ilg.org/FinancialReportingandAccounting

11 City Managers Department, League of California Cities, City Manager Compensation Guidelines, September 17, 2010, available at http://www.cacities.org/Resources-Documents/Resources-Section/Open-Government/CityManagerCompensationGuidelines091710.aspx. The managers also recommend that employees receive a single salary that reflects all duties and responsibilities, rather than a series of salaries for different assignments.

12 One option is to link to the compensation information submitted to State Controller’s Office for the jurisdiction. See http://lgcr.sco.ca.gov/.

13 GFOA Recommendations: Adoption of Financial Policies, with cross references to National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting (NACSLB), http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/budgetAdoptionofFinancialPolicies.pdf.

14 GFOA Recommendations: Adoption of Financial Policies, with cross references to National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting (NACSLB), http://www.gfoa.org/downloads/budgetAdoptionofFinancialPolicies.pdf. The Institute for Local Government offers a booklet called Financial Management for Elected Officials: Questions to Ask available at http://www.ca-ilg.org/PurchasingContractingPractices that local agencies are welcome to link to.

15 See Lafayette Open Government Statement available at http://www.ci.lafayette.ca.us/index.asp?Type=B_PR&SEC=%7B8F2DD7DC-F9B1-40F4-AFE3-D5A6871578A1%7D&DE=%7B67E90AD8-3695-495F-994B-3A1CFDAB20FB%7D

16 The Institute for Local Government offers its booklet Financial Management for Elected Officials: Questions to Ask available for local agencies to link to at http://www.ca-ilg.org/LocalAgencyFinancialPoliciesandPractices.

17 See Lafayette Open Government Statement available at http://www.ci.lafayette.ca.us/index.asp?Type=B_PR&SEC=%7B8F2DD7DC-F9B1-40F4-AFE3-D5A6871578A1%7D&DE=%7B67E90AD8-3695-495F-994B-3A1CFDAB20FB%7D

18 The Institute for Local Government offers a series of one-page, plain language explanations of key planning terms that can be a part of this explanation. Local agencies are welcome to link to the pdfs available on the Institute’s website or adapt the Word versions to their local practices. See www.ca-ilg.org/onepagers. The documents are available in both English and Spanish. The back side of the documents offer tips for presenting one’s position to the decision-making body at public hearings. In addition, the Institute offers a number of more detailed (but still basic) explanations of land use decision-making that local agencies are welcome to link to: http://www.ca-ilg.org/landuse_resources.

19 For more information about GIS, see http://www.gis.com/.

20 From time to time, elected officials will inquire about linking to their campaign or personal websites. In evaluating such requests, a local agency is well advised to consult with agency counsel about legal issues relating to use of public resources for political purposes. For general information about this issue, see Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics Laws: Perk Issues, Including Compensation, Use of Public Resources and Gift Issues (page 15), available at http://www.ca-ilg.org/post/understanding-basics-public-service-ethics-perk-issues-including-compensation-use-public. The Institute has also addressed the potential First Amendment/public forum issues in its question and answer guide relating to use of public resources in ballot measure campaigns, available at http://www.ca-ilg.org/BallotMeasureLegalIssues (see question 4 on pages 9 and 10).

21 For example, Fair Political Practices Commission Campaign Disclosure Manual 2 - Information for Local Candidates, Superior Court Judges, Their Controlled Committees, and Primarily Formed Committees for Local Candidates (revised May 2007), Full Manual, Individual Chapters. See also http://www.sos.ca.gov/prd/city-and-county-electronic-filings.htm (list of cities and counties that have electronic filing requirements).

22 See Cal. Code of Regs. § 18944.2 (Link to Regulation, Form 801 and Instructions (06/2008), Questions and Answers, Part 1 (07/11), Questions and Answers, Part 2 (11/08).

23 See Cal. Code of Regs. § 18944.1 (Link to Regulation, Form and Instructions).

24 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 82015(b)(2)(B)(iii) (Form and Instructions). See also www.ca-ilg.org/BehestedPayments.

25 See Cal. Code of Regs. § 18705.5(c) (Link to Regulation, Form and Instructions).

26 For more information about local conflict of interest codes, visit the Fair Political Practices Commission Website: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.php?id=228, 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 18730, Form 804/New Positions.

Possible Explanation Language:

About Local Conflict of Interest Codes

State law requires local agencies to adopt local conflict of interest codes. Having one’s position included in a conflict of interest code (sometimes referred to as being a “designated employee”) imposes affirmative obligations to disclose one’s financial interests and makes one subject to other ethics rules.

Disclosure

A local code specifies which positions in the agency must disclose their personal financial interests and what kinds of financial interests must be disclosed. Such disclosure occurs on a form called a “Statement of Economic Interests” or Form 700.

One of the purposes of this disclosure is to alert public officials and members of the public to the types of financial interests that may create conflicts of interests.

Other Rules Applying to Employees Designated in Local Conflict of Interest Codes

In addition, under state law, designated employees

  • May not receive payments (honoraria) for giving a speech or writing an article from reportable sources, see 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 18730 (b)(8)(A);
  • May not receive gifts totaling $420 from reportable sources, see 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 18730 (b)(8.1)(A); and
  • May not influence decisions in which they have a financial interest, see 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 18730 (b)(9)(A)

Violations are subject to fines and other penalties. 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 18730 (b)(12).

27 In addition to the specifics of the agency’s process, the League of California Cities offers a number of explanations of Public Records Act requirements at http://www.cacities.org/index.jsp?zone=locc&previewStory=24887 :

28 The rationale for this, according to transparency advocates, is that taxpayers should have access to information about what kinds of lobbying activities are being funded with taxpayer money. See, for example, www.sunshinereview.org/index.php/Transparency_checklist (bullet #8).