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First look: City sheds more light on operations

So, you want to know how the City of Evanston does its business. Well, the city has launched a new section of its website that’s supposed to help you out.

Some information on the new "transparency" section is actually new, much of the rest has been available elsewhere on the city’s website for years.

Here’s an introduction to what you can find there.

If you’re looking to do business with the city, the Bids & Proposals section lets you find out what the city’s looking to buy by tapping into the commercial Onvia DemandStar database the city has used for several years to publish its bid requests.

But if you dig into the data, you’ll notice that the listings show a bunch of bids as "under evaluation" that are several years old and have either long since been awarded or cancelled.

If you wonder what the city’s been spending its money on, you can find the bills lists prepared twice a month for City Council approval. Those lists have already been available online as part of the City Council packet for each meeting since June of 2007.

City budget and annual financial report information has been available online for years, but the transparency section provides a new gateway for accessing it.

Apparently not previously available online is a database of all the city’s ongoing contracts. It was originally set up a few years ago for internal staff use after aldermen complained about staff missing renewal dates on a number of contracts because there was no comprehensive list.

The database only includes basic information about the contracts. If you’re looking for the full text of a city contract, you can often find it by searching the city website for the City Council packet for the meeting at which the contract was approved.

The new section of the city website also pulls together a set of reports on the city’s pension funds and provides information on the city’s union contracts and its pay scales for non-union employees.

But there still are gaps in the information available online about city government — including something as basic as a comprehensive phone directory of city employees.

What do you think of the city’s transparency efforts? What else would you like to know about city government that you can’t find now?

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