PARKERSBURG - Local officials reacted Friday to a report stating government websites in West Virginia are worse than average in the information they provide to the public.
Sunshine Review, a nonprofit, pro-transparency organization, released a state transparency analysis for West Virginia's government websites. Graded on a 10-point transparency checklist, West Virginia scored an overall "C," while the 10 largest schools and five largest counties averaged an "F."
In the analysis, the West Virginia state website earned an "A-" grade, accounting for half of West Virginia's overall grade. Sunshine Review also analyzed the websites of the five largest counties, including Wood, which averaged an "F." The five largest cities earned a "D-" and the 10 largest school districts also earned an "F" average.
Parkersburg and Wood County Schools received grades of "F" in the analysis.
Overall the West Virginia state government website received an "A-" grade and ranked 31st among all states.
Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said the analysis of the county website was not accurate.
"I was aware of this from two years ago," Couch said. "We have redesigned our website and it is much better than it was; we looked at more than 50 websites across the country for ours and we discussed all the changes in the commission and with other county officials."
Couch said after the last report the county made changes to the county's site.
"We redesigned the site two years ago adding information according to their criteria," he said. "Some of it may be hard to find, but the point of listing information about lobbyists caught us completely off guard."
Couch said the budget and audits are on the site under the County Clerk section and there are biographies of most county officials and have photos included.
"I think Sheriff Jeff Sandy has his bio on the Sheriff's Department site," he said.
Among examples of what the group considered to be complete websites, local officials posted their addresses and home or private cell phone numbers.
"We think it is up to the individual officials to list their numbers and addresses," Couch said. "I get calls all the time at home and even correspondence at home and work from constituents; my number is listed and my address is there also."
Couch said the commission may discuss the report at today's meeting.
"We'll look at the process for them to reconsider their rating and look at what we can do," he said.
Couch said he thought it was unfair for the group to give the 35 counties without websites failing grades, adding West Virginia law may be a hindrance in some cases regarding information and services.
"Our laws are antique," he said. "If you want a copy of a birth certificate, divorce or a death certificate, you have to write for it and send a check or come to the courthouse in person and pay cash or with a check. We can't take credit cards for payments."
According to the report the county fails to show information on elected officials, no information on administrative officials, no information on building permits or zoning is listed, no audit information is available, no information on contracts $10,000 or more is available, lobbyists are not mentioned and no tax information is available
Among the largest cities, Parkersburg fared no better than the county with a grade of "F." Morgantown and Wheeling were rated as "D," Charleston "D-" and Huntington joined Parkersburg with an "F."
Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said he had not seen the latest report but said previous reports were not accurate. According to the report, city officials do not provide any information. Under city council members, there are no biographies, but they do have their photos, district they represent and home or private cell numbers.
Parkersburg was given a good grade by the organization for having meeting minutes and agendas archived for three years and having some information available for officials.
Newell said while the city may not have everything available on the website, that does not mean the information is not available to the public.
"City council members addresses are available from the city clerk," he said. "They have to be public record in order to run for office to show the candidate lives in the area they want to represent."
Newell said the website has been changed and will change in the future and more information may be added.
"We don't mind taking a look at this report to see what they want us to add," he said.
Newell said the city does cooperate with requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
"Not many cooperate more than Parkersburg, W.Va.," Newell said. "Nobody in the state comes close to how much the city cooperates."
Among school systems, only 12 did not receive an "F" grade from the group. The highest grade went to Pendleton County, which got a "C." Ritchie County also received an "F' but does not have a website.
In the report, Wood County Schools got good marks for information regarding meetings and for information on school system administration. It states administrative officials are listed with contact information and meeting schedules, reviews, and agendas are posted.
On the bad side, it says school board members are listed, but contact information is not provided, only the 2008 budget is published, the site does not provide information on taxes, contracts, audits, and background checks and no information is available on how to make public record requests.
According to Sunshine Review, a transparency checklist is a list of website transparency features that citizens in any part of the U.S. should be able to find when they visit the websites of counties, cities, school districts and state agencies.
This list was created to encourage open government, a political doctrine which holds that the business of government and state administration should be opened at all levels to effective public scrutiny and oversight.
Sunshine's website states it has approached transparency with an attitude that "if it's there, then it's transparent."