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REPORT: Rhode Island Government’s Transparency “Lagging”

Thursday, January 31, 2013


How open should a government be with its citizens?

It’s a question that touches on a number of philosophical issues, not the least of which is ‘how much information do people have a right to know about the day-to-day operations of those they elect to represent them?’

While there may never be a perfect answer to that question, there are ways to measure a government’s transparency with its citizens and one national study by the Sunshine Review has done just that.

So how does Rhode Island rank?

Well, according to the Sunshine Review, the Ocean State leaves a lot to be desired in the information it communicates to its citizens.

In its first-ever nationwide report on “the proactive disclosure of government information,” the Sunshine Review found Rhode Island’s transparency worthy of a C+ grade, giving it the not-so-thrilling distinction of “lagging,” which is one step below the lowest category of “poor.”

The five states earning the highest grades in this year’s evaluation were California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Alabama, Kentucky Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota all scored the lowest.

The Sunshine Review examines the websites of each state government, the five largest counties and cities in
each state, and the ten largest school districts in each state.

Rhode Island scored a C+ overall after getting an overall grade of 61.25%.

The State website itself, however, fare well with a B- as the Sunshine Review lauded the Ocean State for listing its budgets, its agencies are offices, current and previous budget information, tax information, audits, ethics information, lobbyists and bid opportunities.

The state’s five biggest cities all performed average, coming in with a total score of a C but the city of Providence was commended for its efforts in providing budget information, meeting schedules, audits and permit/zoning information and received a B- overall.

Rhode Island’s school districts received the most negative grade, earning a grade of 47% overall as just the Cranston, Cumberland, North Kingstown and South Kingstown districts even managed to score a C grade.

Most of RI’s school districts suffered for failing to provide a way to access public records or information on contracts/audits within the district.

Transparency has been a key point of contention for Rhode Island’s state government and, earlier this month, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order that launched a new website aimed at not only helping the state become more transparent for its residents but, Chafee hopes, opening the path to save taxpayers money over time by reducing the number of requests residents make for access to public records.

The new state website is listed at http://www.transparency.ri.gov and over the next 18 months, Chafee said, Rhode Island’s government should become more open and accessible to residents than ever before.

And if it works, the Ocean State may soon address some of the very issues that earned them a “lagging” grade in the Sunshine Review’s report.


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