Texas county government websites earned a failing grade from the Sunshine Review, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more online transparency on government sites. In the annual report released today, Texas state government performed better than counties, and school districts got the highest marks.
The organization uses a 10-point scale to rate the accessibility of information such as budgets, meetings, contracts, financial audits, lobbying, salaries, background checks and academic performances for school districts. It reviewed the websites for the state, cities, counties and school districts.
The state of Texas website, used for customer services such as driver's license renewal and vehicle registration and obtaining listings of state taxes, lobbyists, audit reports and databases about state contracts, got a B- from the group. The Sunshine Review analysis says the website provides information but that the site's search function is difficult to use and does not provide an overall budget.
“Anything less than an A is a disservice to Texas citizens,” said Michael Barnhart, president of the Sunshine Review. “Texans deserve a government that discloses vital information about everything from the quality of their children’s schools to how much they pay in taxes.”
County government websites averaged an F across the board. The five largest counties — Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis — received a B average. Of the 254 Texas counties, 27 of them do not have a website, according to the report. El Paso County was the only county website to receive an A.
The low grade for counties overall stems from the fact that most are small and rural and don't have the resources to develop comprehensive websites, said Elna Christopher, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of Counties.
"They're doing the best they can with the limited funding they have," she said.
The Sunshine Review gave Texas cities and school districts an average grade of B.
Texas law requires school districts to maintain websites to publish information about board meetings, financial disclosure statements and summaries of annual proposed budgets.