Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There's a Reason the Public Looks to the Media for Information

City Government Web Site's Information can be Difficult to Navigate

You can trace my steps here, then consider the results of the last capital improvements sales tax to pass (that's what I really wanted readers to know).

I recently volleyed a few emails back and forth with Springfield's Public Information Office (PIO) Director regarding previous election results of the Capital Improvements Program.

If you want to retrace my steps, you can find the CIP page I was perusing by looking under "e" for "election issues" on the City's site map (available at the City's Web site), then clicking on Capital Improvements (conveniently linked above for you). Here's what it looks like under "Election issues" at the City's site map:

Election issues: Upcoming Issue, Latest Results and status of Capital Improvements, 1/8¢ Sales Tax Status

By clicking on the 1/8-cent Tax Status link available at the election issues section of the Capital Improvements Program Web page (at the time of this posting), one can (could?) find the following information as to the status of the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax:

"On August 5, 2008, Springfield voters once again approved renewal of an 1/8¢ sales tax, with no tax increase, for another round of high-priority transportation projects in Springfield. The tax has a four-year sunset.

Yes - 14,727 (80.95%) No - 3,465 (19.05%)

In 1996, 2000 and 2004, Springfield voters approved a one-eighth of one percent sales tax for transportation that has allowed the City to partner with the Missouri Department of Transportation to accelerate improvements by extending MoDOT’s cost-sharing program to additional high-priority projects in the Springfield metro area."

Apparently, based on information which was later shared by the PIO Director, it is just a coincidence that I could find such information under the "previous election" link at the Eighth-cent Transportation Tax page, because it was the last "previous election," prior to the February 3, 2009 election, and the Web site had not yet been updated to reflect the results of the February 3, election.

I didn't realize it was just a quinkydink when I began trying to find information about the last election in which voters approved the Capital Improvement Program's 1/4-cent sales tax. I was thinking: "It stands to reason that the same sort of election information should be available pertaining to the Capital Improvement Program's 1/4-cent Sales Tax as is available about the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax." However, such election results weren't available at the Capital Improvements Program Web page, and a click on the "previous election" link at the Capital Improvements Program Web page garnered this reply:

"The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable."

Upon sending a query to the PIO Director, inquiring as to when the previous CIP election information would be available at the Web site, she recommended I visit the County's Web site, as their election information is more comprehensive than the City's election information but, without the date of the CIP tax renewal, the County's Web site was no help. My original question was deflected, it went unanswered.

Now, I am and was mindful that the City's computer systems were recently attacked by a computer virus and I know they were required to replace some of the information they had previously had available to the public on the internet. I also don't expect them to jump through hoops every time an issue is brought to their attention, it was for that reason I simply asked when the information might be restored so that it would be accessible to the public once again.

Finally, after my third attempt to find out when the election result information on the CIP Web page was going to be provided or replaced, the PIO Director told me that the CIP election information was, "not on the Web anymore. It has since been replaced by the 1/8-cent from last August, which will be replaced in the "previous election" section soon by the Feb. 3 election."

Apparently, I did not have a clear understanding about the purpose of the previous election link on the CIP Web page. I would have assumed it would pertain to the previous election that had included the CIP sales tax.

One might ask, why place the CIP and the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax Status links under "election issues" if their specific, previous election results are not going to be made available to the public, wouldn't the generic "Upcoming Issue, and Latest Results" links serve the purpose of giving the previous election results? I'm befuddled and confused about the purpose of providing links to those items under "election issues" because, certain elections have, or will have, no bearing at all on those specific sales tax issues.

In the February 3, 2009, election, neither of those tax initiatives were even on the ballot. It makes me think (because I have a brain) that, perhaps, the original intent of those links was to inform the voters of the results of the last elections which specifically pertained to those tax initiatives. I decided not to ask, I've troubled the PIO Director enough and there were other issues upon which I wanted to move.

Am I being picky? It isn't a particular big deal, except that, without being able to find the date of the last election to mark voter approval of the Capital Improvement Sales Tax through the City's informational pages, the County's Web site could offer me nothing hence, the County's touted, more "comprehensive election results summaries" meant nothing to me. You see, in most cases, tax initiatives the City of Springfield place on the ballot are identified by the County Election Office as, "City of Springfield Question 1." How is the public to know whether "question 1" was a vote on the CIP sales tax, a vote on the transportation sales tax or a vote on, oh, I don't know, a pension fund sales tax?

It is only important because it highlights either the accessibility or the inaccessibility of public information to the taxpayers of Springfield and Greene County. These steps, and the continuing steps I had to take to access that information, mark the steps a member of the public might also have to trace in order to find out information about the government, information about their own tax dollars.

The only other course would be to ask someone at the City. Perhaps you could ask your City Council representative to find out for you, if he/she doesn't know off the top of his/her head. You could ask the PIO Director. You could call the City Clerk's Office.

In this case, all I needed was the date of the last passage of the CIP sales tax. I tried my best to find it online, myself, for a reason. Sometimes, in the past, when I have asked certain questions, rather than an answer, I've been told that the information is available online, as though I shouldn't have asked until I did a thorough search of the City's Web site first. Well, that seemed fair enough, so that's what I try to do. I look for the information at the City's Web site first and if, after I have searched, I cannot find it, I start asking questions. Honestly, I really do try to be as considerate as possible when doing research.

Anyway, finally, after finding out, through the PIO Director, there were no plans to provide that information online for the public, I just asked the PIO Director to tell me the date of the last election in which voters approved the CIP sales tax. Non-readers of this blog who would like that information are on their own.

As a result of my efforts, I can offer the following information to my readers:

> The Capital Improvement Program's 1/4-cent sales tax was last approved by voters in February 2007.

> Total voter turn out for that election was 6.56 percent.

> Of the 104,041 registered voters in Greene County, at that time, the total number of registered voters who cast a ballot that day was 6,826.

> The County identified the CIP tax initiative on the ballot as, "CITY OF SPRINGFIELD QUESTION 1."

> The 3,941 registered voters who voted "yes" to the 1/4-cent CIP sales tax in the last election represented 72.55 percent of the 6.52 percent of registered voters who turned out that day.

> The 1,087 registered voters who voted "no" to the 1/4 CIP sales tax in the last election represented 27.45 percent of the 6.52 percent of registered voters who turned out for that election.

> Of the 6,826 registered voters who cast a ballot that February day in 2007, 5,028 cast a vote either for or against the CIP 1/4-cent sales tax, deciding the issue for the rest of the taxpayers in the City of Springfield.

> By a margin of 2,854 votes, the 1/4-cent Capital Improvement Program sales tax was passed.


No comments: