By William Mattox
Resident Fellow, The James Madison Institute
Weather patterns in the Florida panhandle have not changed much since last March.  Nevertheless, the citizens of Jackson County have benefitted from a significant increase in “sunshine” over the last year.  That’s because public officials in Marianna, the county seat, have made “proactive disclosure” of county government activities a higher priority. As a result, Jackson County raised its government transparency report card grade from an F in 2011 to a B- in 2012.  And this not only took Jackson off the “Ugly” list for 2012 (see page 3), but it earned Jackson County the distinction of having the “Most Improved” government web site in the Sunshine State for 2012. Jackson County’s jump in the annual rankings of government transparency ought to serve notice to other jurisdictions around the state – perhaps especially those in similarly-remote areas.  For whether one’s population is large or small, government transparency is increasingly important (and increasingly easy) in our digital age . . .
View Full Brief:
“Proactive Disclosure in the Sunshine State: A 2012 Progress Report on Government Transparency” (PDF)
 Key Findings:
The number of local government web sites in Florida earning an A grade from the Sunshine Review increased from 22 a year ago to 28 today.   
Once again, Florida had more jurisdictions earning the Sunshine Review’s top grade than any other state.  In fact, only Texas (21), Illinois (19), and Virginia (14) had at least half as many Sunny Award winners as Florida (28).  
Jackson County earned the state’s “Most Improved” distinction for raising its score three letter grades (from an F to a B-).  The Hardee and Flagler school districts also made notable improvements, raising their scores two letter grades each. 
Overall, the Sunshine State received a cumulative transparency grade of B.  This grade was held down by the high number of “problem sites” (those earning a transparency grade of D or F), which declined only modestly, from 46 to 43, during the last year.
Failing to provide citizens good information about how to access government audits and about how to access public records were the most common transparency problems. 
Duval, Indian River, Lee, Palm Beach and St. John’s were the only areas to garner A grades in both the county and school district categories. Calhoun, Glades, Lafayette, and Union were the only areas to receive Fs in both categories.