At the local level, government transparency is a mixed bag for much of Ocean County. Some towns provide timely updates of public information, while getting transparency in others is like pulling teeth.
This website has undertaken a comprehensive audit of government transparency in the municipalities of Ocean County in order to better understand how much information is being provided to the citizens of each town within the county. Future studies will be performed on the municipal utilities authorities (MUAs), boards of education, in addition to a separate study for each Ocean County governmental agency, board and commissions as time and resources allow in the future.
To analyze what (and how much) information is being provided to the citizens of Ocean County from their municipal governments by way of publicly documents readily available on their respective websites.
Criteria included whether or not each municipality maintained current versions of the following:
- Town meeting agendas & minutes
- Planning board meeting agendas & minutes
- Zoning board meeting agendas & minutes
- Whether or not meetings are filmed.
We believe that this set of criteria is both a baseline and reasonable set of expectations for what should be on town websites in 2016, as these items should show most of the important information for these types of governmental entities.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Ocean County’s towns vary widely from those that provide everything, to those that haven’t updated portions in months or years. Despite the low cost, we find it concerning that a minority of municipalities film their meetings.
The State of New Jersey must adopt a uniform statutory requirement establishing a minimum baseline for what public documents should be readily accessible online to remedy the current patchwork that currently exists with respect to local government transparency. This is not impossible and should not be controversial, as a state law already requires local municipal utilities authorities (MUAs) to maintain a website with similar information, so asking the same of municipal governments would be reasonable in this author’s opinion. The state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees municipalities and reviews budgets, would likely be the best venue to enforce such a requirement.
Until there is a uniform state requirement for what municipalities must disclose to the public on their websites, we will continue to have the current patchwork that exists today, with some municipalities maintaining a perfect score, such as Barnegat, and others like Ocean Gate lacking.
To see a larger view of this chart, click here to download the Excel workbook.
Was your town transparent, or did your local officials drop the ball? Let us know what you think in the comments section.