Nearly 80 percent of Oklahoma’s counties do not make online records accessible to the public. As a result, Oklahoma is ranked toward the bottom in a report that looks at transparency in local government. The Sunshine Review grades each county by determining whether its Web site has information about budgets, meetings, elected and administrative officials, zoning and permits, audits, contracts, lobbying, public records and taxes. The review shows 57 Oklahoma counties don’t have a central Web site. Oklahoma County received the highest grade: a B-minus. The next highest grades went to Tulsa and Beaver counties: C-minus. In total, 59 Oklahoma counties failed the 10-point grading scale. Kristin McMurray, managing editor of the Sunshine Review, said its purpose is to help people become active in their government. "Activism is turning online,” McMurray said. "We want people to see this checklist, take it to their city hall or county commissioners and tell them they could be doing more.” McMurray said the Sunshine Review site launched in 2008 and is built by volunteers. Like Wikipedia, users can enter and edit information on the site. McMurray’s writers also peruse it for errors and omissions. She said mistakes can be corrected in a matter of minutes, and the site is continually updated. Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, said in the digital age, putting the information in a convenient place should be the standard. "This is the taxpayers’ government,” he said. "For them to have confidence in it they should be able to easily access this information.” Downs said smaller counties receiving high grades prove that it’s not an issue of manpower or cost. But Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, disagrees. "I appreciate the measurement but not the implication that county governments that don’t have Web sites are being dishonest,” he said. "It doesn’t mean that anyone is hiding anything.” Thomas said at issue is how smaller counties operate with smaller budgets. An expensive Web site might not be a top priority, especially if residents don’t want it. "Since most government-run Web sites are just puff pieces of public relations for that arm of government, it doesn’t matter to me if they have a Web site,” he said. Thomas noted newspapers are supposed to give people the information they need to know. And most of these records are easily accessed by walking into a government office or looking to state-run sites.
Making the grade"I want an A-plus,” Oklahoma County Clerk Carolyn Caudill said. Oklahoma County didn’t receive it because lobbying information and audit data aren’t on the Web site. It received partial credit for posting some contracts online. Caudill said audits will be on the Web site soon. She also thinks linking certain county sites to others would be useful and more user-friendly. "Mega counties have big bucks,” Logan County Clerk Troy Cole said. "We’re forced to do some of the same things in the more rural counties, and it can be crippling.” Logan County received a failing grade despite information available on meetings, land records and county officials. Oklahoma’s average score was 2, and only three states scored lower — Kentucky, Mississippi and New Mexico. California and Arizona fared the best in the review.