By Phillip Moyer, Nevada News Bureau: The Sunshine Review says Clark County’s website has a long way to go to improve its transparency. In its online website evaluation, Clark County, along with the sites of eight other Nevada counties, received a grade of “F” for the amount of public information that is posted.
Among the county website’s failings are its limited information on the county budget, the lack of credit card receipts or checkbook register information and lack of information about lobbying.
Erik Pappa, director of Public Communications for Clark County, said the Clark County website hasn’t received a significant overhaul in “over a decade” and that the information reported by the Sunshine Review “confirms a lot of what we already knew.”
As a result of the website’s increasing importance, with 4.9 million visitors accessing the site in 2009, Clark County is in the process of redesigning the website and, according to Pappa, will consider the suggestions made by the Sunshine Review when determining updates.
Among the improvements Pappa said would be worth considering are a page that provides a more complete picture of local taxes, the inclusion of several years’ worth of budget reports and more explicit information on who to contact for public records requests.
“Generally speaking, we recognize that the site needs an overhaul and that’s why we’re taking the time to redesign it and improve on it,” said Pappa.
However, Pappa said some of the Sunshine Review’s current information, which as a wiki can be updated by anyone with internet access, is “inaccurate or misleading.”
According to the Sunshine Review’s standards, Pappa said, Clark County’s information on local taxes should be considered “incomplete” instead of “missing.” Also, Clark County’s information on meetings is considered “incomplete” even though, Pappa said, the county has “one of the best and most complete websites when it comes to finding information about our County Commission and related meetings.” And despite the Sunshine Review’s claims that the county site only keeps minutes from its meetings online for 120 days, minutes are available from meetings dating as far back as June 2008, he said.
Pappa readily admitted, however, that the Clark County website’s current layout is difficult to navigate and requires visitors to know how the county government is organized in order to successfully find information in the site’s 7,000 pages. The site update will deal with this issue as well, he said.
“It’s a huge website, with a lot of information. We know that we can organize it much better,” he said. “We need to make it more citizen-centric. It’s difficult for people to find things.”
To help citizens get the information they need, Pappa said, the new design will include a more intuitive interface, multimedia content and RSS capabilities.
Pappa claimed that transparency is fundamental to Clark County, pointing to Clark County’s Guiding Values and Principles which include “Accountability” and “Open and Inclusive government.”
“The website is obviously a very important part of that, and it’s only going to become a more and more important part in the future,” he said. “ is central and critical to everything that we do. We believe it’s important, and I believe that will be reflected in the new design.”
Currently, to obtain information not provided on the site, citizens would have to send in a letter or email to request the public records. The site does not, however, have information on how to make such a request.
One of the more unusual lapses in transparency mentioned by the Sunshine Review is the absence of Clark County’s contract with the firefighter’s union due to a clause in the contract that reads, “At no time shall the County place the collective bargaining agreement, in whole or part on any website.” Any Nevada citizen who wants to read the contract would have to make a written request in order to view a copy of the contract.
When asked about the contract, Pappa mentioned that the county is currently renegotiating its contract with the firefighter’s union.
“I can’t talk about what’s happening in those negotiations, but I suppose that could be a subject of discussion,” he said.