PEORIA, Ill -- Former Governor Rod Blagojevich has been in prison for almost a month serving a 14 year federal corruption sentence. Illinois was also recently named the third most corrupt state in the country. But one non-profit, non-partisan group is trying to change that.
"We do it because we believe in the mission, we believe transparency and accountability will make the state of Illinois better," said Brian Costin, the Director of Outreach with the Illinois Policy Institute.
Across the state the Illinois Policy Institute has graded the websites of local governments to see if public information is readily available to citizens.
"When's the next board meeting? What's the contact information for my elected officials and senior administrators? And then there is other information that we're looking at, like the financial information. Whats the budget? What are the audits for last year? How much are we paying our public employees? Those are all really important things for citizens if they want to participate and make a difference," says Costin.
Overall, the Illinois Policy Institute was disappointed with the Peoria area. Pekin, East Peoria, Washington, West Peoria, Morton, Dunlap, Peoria Heights, Bartonville, North Pekin, and Hanna city all received failing grades. Peoria fares slightly better, scoring a 'D'.
"I'm disappointed that they're disappointed," said Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.
Mayor Ardis said a new city website is in the works, but the project takes time and manpower, a resource many local governments, including Peoria, are lacking right now.
However, Mayor Ardis believes they are moving in the right direction. He said, "I think the move towards transparency is educational, but its also just allowing the public to know how their government is working."
Peoria citizen Bill Lopotko said he wants to make the government better for future generations that's why he helped bring the transparency project to Central Illinois.
"A lot of people think that all the politicians are corrupted, they feel that all the politicians are trying to take what they can and I think we need to change that thought and make it more positive. And the only way you can do that is if we start taking ownership because really the government is ours," said Lopotko.
Lopotko is working with Peoria to improve, but says so far, he received little to no response from the others.
He hopes every step, no matter how small, will bring light to a dark spot in Illinois' history.
For the full report card and to see how your community fared, follow this link: https://docs.google.com/a/illinoispolicy.org/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AphqHibjCdUOdDF4OGxkOXNPR2s5OHowZUxVMTBDeFE#gid=0
To find out how the municipalities are graded, follow this link: http://www.illinoispolicy.org/content/?section=504
Some local officials have responding to this study.
Matt Fick, an administrator with the Village of Peoria Heights said, "The Village has updated some of the categories since the initial study but we will update the website even more asap to try to address as many of the checklist items as possible. Our staffing levels will dictate how much we can do...posting new contracts and expenditures to the degree the Illinois Policy Institute recommends would almost require a dedicated staff person."
Dunlap Mayor Jack Fennell said, "The Illinois Policy Institute grades WEB page Transparency only! We have developed [a] very nice web page for the Village of Dunlap, we keep it up to date best we can with volunteer help...[The] Village of Dunlap board has been looking at ways to address better way[s] to get information for our citizens. This falls right in line with what the Illinois Policy Institute is asking for on [the village] web page...Once we have people in place to help support web page updates we will be looking forward to our A+ from Illinois Policy Institute."
Village of North Pekin President Steve Flowers said, "Our website is a new venture for the Village, and we have been diligently working to make the [site] better. Unfortunately we are surprised by the low grade, and will be in the process of correcting any weakness's on our website as we investigate the criteria needed."
Morton Village President Norm Durflinger said, " We are in the process of upgrading our website so we have not added information to our present site...Just because information is not on the web does not mean that we are not transparent...the Policy Institute has only looked at one source of information (web site) and has not made any contact with me for additional information and explanation...If the Institute says our website is an F and does not give enough information I agree and that is why we are fixing it, but I will never accept that our Village government is not transparent in other ways."