Transparency in Massachusetts Municipal Websites
In January of 2010, Common Cause Massachusetts began its annual review of all 351 Massachusetts municipality websites to determine how many post important governance records online. These items—the governing body’s agenda, the governing body’s minutes, the current year’s budget, the by-laws or ordinances, and if applicable, the town meeting warrant and results—are by no means comprehensive, but do provide a critical baseline for transparency.
Our research found that 326 municipalities have some presence on the Internet, while 25 do not maintain a website at all. Of those with websites, we concluded that 180 municipalities, or 51.2% post all of the targeted records. 83 municipalities, or 23.6%, also post additional governance documents1—an archive of the governing body’s minutes and agenda, a calendar, zoning by-laws, and a recent agenda and minutes from the school committee and another board or committee. Additionally, the review found that 303 municipalities maintain a website with at least a single targeted document. Despite having gone through the effort of building a website, there are 23 communities that did not post any of the documents we were looking for.
It should be the priority of government, at any level, to make information readily available to the public it serves. As is evident from the results of this study, an overwhelming percentage of Massachusetts municipalities possess the resources to make government accessible to their constituents. The findings in this report demonstrate that the past three years have seen a significant increase in the number of municipalities meeting our criteria—unfortunately there is still much work to be done.