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Rare show of transparency refreshing
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 1/15/2009 12:02 AM

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Thomas Jefferson might get most of the credit for his fervent support of a free press as a government watchdog, but his successor, James Madison, was no slouch.

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both," he is quoted as saying.

He, too, was speaking of newspapers, which two centuries ago were the only avenue for getting information on the workings of government into the hands of the masses.

As brilliant as they were, neither man could have envisioned the Internet. But we're fairly certain they'd be proud of how one government body today is using the World Wide Web.

It may seem mundane to many and probably not something you'd spend your afternoon combing through, but what DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan has done is an important step in providing a level of transparency in government that we haven't seen before.

Grogan has posted the county's monthly expenditures on line, which is tantamount to opening the county's checkbook for the world to see.

"I have a small staff of six people and now I'll have a million and six people looking over these reports," Grogan said. "In the long run I see this as something that is going to save me time and make me more efficient."

You can find out how the county spends money in each department, how it pays its vendors and how its projects cost out. Data will be updated monthly.

Grogan may be overestimating the sexiness of poring over ledger sheets, but in an era where too many governments still hold onto information with a death grip, it's hard to overstate importance of such governmental openness.

DuPage is the first county in the state to do this, according to watchdog group forthegoodofillinois.com, which has sung the county's praises.

It should not be alone.

The Freedom of Information Act was born more than 40 years ago and to date remains one of the great protections against abuses in government, giving regular people access to a plethora of information.

Too often, reporters are forced to go through the process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get data. And too often that process is used by government bodies to delay the release of information that rightfully should be public.

Auditor Grogan said he was able to post his county's data on line with no added cost or manpower. And maintenance only amounts to a couple hours a month.

In reality, this probably will save the county money in collecting data to answer Freedom of Information Act requests.

In the interest of better serving the public while saving money, why isn't everyone doing this?