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Open Government / Transparency

Brazos County and Open & Transparent Government

 

Why is open government so important?

County residents and taxpayers need to be able to adequately gauge whether a county government is:

  • Effective.
  • Competent.
  • Frugal with tax revenues
  • In compliance with all expectations and relevant laws about public records and open meetings.

 

What kind of information should counties disclose on their websites to fulfill the intent and spirit of transparency in government?

Budget

  • The county website should include comprehensive budget information.
    • The Brazos County Budget Office page has links to comprehensive budget information such as proposed budgets, approved budgets, monthly reports, annual reports and tax rate informatio

  • The budget for the current fiscal year should be posted online.
    • The budget for the current fiscal year may be found by selecting the current year’s budget from the Approved Budgets page

  • Budgets for previous years should be posted online.
    • The budget for previous fiscal years may be found by selecting the desired year’s budget from the Approved Budgets page

  • It should be very easy for people to find this information when they visit the website. This means that prominent navigational features enabling someone to locate the budget should be included on the homepage of the website.
    • The central navigation bar on the Brazos County homepage has a link called Budget.

    • The same information may also be found by navigating directly to the Budget Office’s page.

  • Graphic features that compare the current budget to past year's budgets should be incorporated, to enable people to make sense of trends over time.
    • This information will be available at the end of the current budget year and is exected to be posted by November 2012.

  • Narrative features should be incorporated into descriptions of the budget. For example, if the current year budget is 1.2% higher, or 5% lower, or 14.7% higher than the previous year's budget, it is helpful to citizens to provide this comparative explanation at the beginning of a summary about the budget.
    • This information will be available at the end of the current budget year and is exected to be posted by November 2012.

County government meetings/agendas

  • The county's website should disclose all county government meetings and agenda.
  • Time and place of meeting.  
  • Agendas for all meetings that fall under rules about open meetings (which should be 99% of any government meetings).
  • Whether the meeting is open or closed.
  • Whether public input is allowed at the meeting and, if so, what the rules are that govern public input.
    • All of the above information may be found by on the Brazos County Agendas site.

    • Links to the Agenda site are located prominently in the central navigation panel on the Brazos County homepage.

    • A link is also located prominently in the left navigation panel from the Commissioners Court main page

  • Minutes of meetings should be recorded and posted online.
    • Meeting Minutes are also recorded and posted online from the Brazos County Agendas site.

    • Navigate to the Brazos County Agendas site and select any meeting.  Once the meeting page is displayed, you may select the “Minutes” tab at the top-left page.

Elected officials

The county's website should disclose key information about the county's elected officials.

  • Their names.
  • Contact information, which should include a street address, phone number, and e-mail address.
    • Every office and department in the County has web page.   Each of those pages contains the elected officials / appointed administrator’s name, office location and pertinent contact information.

    • In addition, there is a Staff Directory located prominently in the central navigation panel on the Brazos County homepage.


  • Terms of office and date of next election.
  • If the elected officials are elected in partisan elections, the website should indicate their party affiliation.

  • Any financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements that the county requires of its elected officials should be posted online.

  • Their committee appointments.

Elections

The county's website should disclose key information about the county's elections:

An election website:

  • Does the county website reflect information about the most current election?



      Ballot Text Availability:

      • Is the exact ballot measure text or question available on the county website?
      • Does the county provide a list of all of the measures that will appear on the ballot?

      Updated results:

      Ballot measure archive:


      Administrative officials

      The county's website should disclose key information about the county's appointed administrators:

      • Their names and titles.
      • Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
        • Every office and department in the County has web page. Each of those pages contains the elected officials / appointed administrator’s name, office location and pertinent contact information.

        • In addition, there is a Staff Directory located prominently in the central navigation panel on the Brazos County homepage.

      Building permits and zoning

      The county's website should disclose key information about the county's building permits and zoning:

      • Applications should be available to be downloaded online.
        • Applications and forms are downloadable from the Brazos County Road & Bridge Department’s Forms & Documents Page.

      • The county should provide information about how to move forward to obtain building permits.
        • Building Permit information may be found on the Brazos County Road & Bridge Department’s Floodplain page.

      • Constituents should be able to submit applications and track the process online.
        • Forms may be submitted from the Brazos County Road & Bridge Department’s  Form & Documents page.

      Audits (Financial/Performance)

      If the county conducts financial and management audits to ensure that it is operating in accordance with the highest standards of financial and management competence and integrity, then:

      • Copies of performance and financial audits should be posted on the county's website.
        • Copies of Annual Financial Reports may be found on the Auditor’s page under Financial Reports.

      • Routine financial audits should be posted online.
        • Financial Audits, Reports, and Records may all be found under the County Auditors page.

      Contracts

      The county's website should provide comprehensive information about the contracts it enters into with vendors.

      • The rules the county must abide by when it enters into contracts with outside vendors should be posted on the county's website.

      • When the county enters into a bidding process for larger contracts, the request for bids should be posted on the county's website.

      • Publicly available information about the bids the county receives should be posted online, keyed to the request for bids the county has previously published.

      • Specific contracts the county enters into with outside vendors for any amount over $10,000 should be posted online.
        • All contracts are filed with the minutes of the meeting in which they are approved. 

        • To view meeting minutes, navigate to the Brazos County Agendas site and select the desired meeting.  Once the meeting page is displayed, you may select the “Minutes” tab at the top-left page.

      • If elected officials of the county have received campaign contributions from any vendors who sell services to the county, this information should be posted on the county's website.
        • Filed with the County Clerk as part of a report on campaign contributions.

      Lobbying/advocacy

      • If the county enters into a contract with a lobbyist or lobbying firm, full details of this arrangement must be posted on the county's website, including the name of the lobbyist or lobbying firm, the amount paid to the lobbyist or firm, and the legislation that the lobbyist is advocating for on the taxpayer's dime.

      • If the county pays dues to belong to any lobbying associations, full details of these arrangements should be included on the county's website, including the name of the association, the amount paid in dues, and an identification of what positions that lobbying association is taking with the money it has received from the county's taxpayers via the dues paid to it by the county.

      • If the county gives grants to non-profit organizations, these grants should be disclosed on the county's website with a reason for the grant and information about who in the non-profit organization is responsible for oversight and administration of the funds it has received from the county's taxpayers via a grant from the county.
        •   Brazos County does not give GRANTS to non-profit organizations, but does contract with a small group for services for the community (ie: Boys & Girls Club).  This is part of the budget and is listed under Community Support organizations.  It is also included in the minutes when the contract is approved. 
        • To view meeting minutes, navigate to the Brazos County Agendas site and select the desired meeting.  Once the meeting page is displayed, you may select the “Minutes” tab at the top-left page.

      Information about local taxes

      • Information on how property tax levels set.
        • Brazos County follows the Truth in Taxation process set out in Chapter 26 of the Texas Property Tax Code each year when adopting their tax rates.  The actual calculations determining the Effective and Rollback tax rates are available to the public in the Brazos County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office.  Additionally, guidebooks and information pamphlets concerning the required steps for setting tax rates along with the State Comptrollers booklet,  “Taxpayers Rights and Remedies” can be found on the Comptroller’s website at www.window.state.tx.us

      • Information about how often property assessments are conducted
        • Property is appraised by the Brazos Central Appraisal District as provided by the Texas Property Tax Code.  The taxable values are certified to the various taxing jurisdictions within Brazos County each year in July.  Specific information on the processes and timeline for property tax appraisal can be found on the Brazos Central Appraisal District website at www.brazoscad.org

      • If there is a local sales tax, the local sales tax should be posted.
        • Brazos County has adopted ½ cent sales tax to reduce property taxes. 

      • Information on any other local taxes that the county collects.
        • The Brazos County Tax Office collects property taxes for the county and every other taxing jurisdiction within the boundaries of Brazos County.  The taxing jurisdictions are listed on the Property Taxes page of this website, and a link to information on Adopted, Maintenance & Operations, Debt, Effective, Effective Maintenance and Operations, and Rollback Tax Rates for each entity can be found on the home page of the Brazos County website. 

        • In addition to property taxes, the Brazos County Tax Office collects vehicle registration and title fees, and vehicle sales tax for all vehicles and vehicle transactions within Brazos County.

      Access to government records and public documents

      The county website should include comprehensive information about how citizens can obtain access to public records in the custody of the county.

      • The county website should  identify the office that a citizen goes to file an open records request

      • The county website should identify the office’s contact information.

      • The county website should provide this information in a very easy-to-locate position on their website.

      • The county website should lay out the procedure for a citizen to follow who wants access to public records.
      • The information should be user-friendly.
        • The procedures for filing an open records request are explained on the County Judge’s Public Records page.