HILO — Despite a steadily rising budget for the county’s Information Technology Department, Hawaii County lags behind the rest of the state in providing information to the public on its website.
The county earned a C-minus on the 2013 Transparency Report Card published late last month by the Chesterfield, Va.-based nonprofit Sunshine Review. In comparison, Kauai County earned an A-plus, Maui County received an A-minus and the City and County of Honolulu received a B-minus.
Some 1,014 state and local government and school district websites were graded “A” to “F” measuring available content against a 10-point checklist.
“Transparency empowers citizens,” Michael Barnhart, president of Sunshine Review, said in a prepared statement announcing the report card. “Citizens are entitled to crucial information on how the public business is conducted and how public money is spent. Without this information, voters cannot hold government accountable. Without transparency, accountability is impossible.”
Hawaii County’s website, hawaiicounty.gov, received high marks for the presence of budget documents, tax information, contracts, permits and zoning information and names and contact information for elected officials.
It was penalized for not having information about lobbying and lobbyists and for the lack of instructions and contact information on how to obtain public records on the site. The county received partial credit for incomplete information on audits, administration officials and meeting notices and minutes.
The county’s calendar has been especially problematic to users, containing only a fraction of the public meetings of commissions and boards scheduled each week. Nor does the calendar link to meeting agendas, which are found elsewhere on the website.
T. Ilihia Gionson, a mayor’s office spokesman, said feedback such as the Transparency Report Card is important as the county works on improving its website. He said the county has been working on getting its records digitized and online in the Laserfiche document management system, but not all of the records have been linked to public access sites yet.
The administration is working with the various agencies and branches of government to create a more coordinated system, he said.
“IT has a very important role,” Gionson said. “It can make government more efficient, more responsive and more transparent. We’re looking to improve in these areas at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The budget for the county IT Department has increased 36.8 percent over the past two years to $1.6 million annually, and it’s expected to grow another 19.5 percent to $1.9 million by 2014, according to county budget documents. The department employs 18 full-time workers.
One of its goals outlined in the department summary provided to the County Council during budget reviews is to “provide opportunities for the citizens to access county government records and to transact business with the county government using computer technology.”
But that’s just a small portion of responsibilities of a department also charged with maintaining the county’s computer networks and telecommunications systems, staffing a help desk and training employees on computers and software and overseeing a document management system that now contains more than 3 million documents.