GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY – TRANSPARENT IDAHO/TOWNHALL IDAHO, AUG. 30

Transparent Idaho/Townhall Idaho, Wed. Aug. 30, 2023


There was some surprise news at the start of this fall’s first IDOG government transparency workshop on Aug. 30: Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane, who was welcoming the audience and introducing the series of four sessions this fall, said, “As of this morning, I have a confession to make.”

“At 9 a.m. today, the State Board of Land Commissioners, of which I am one, just announced a special meeting on Friday at 9 a.m. to cure a mistake in a motion on open meetings. There was a mistake regarding the open meeting law, and so we’re working to cure that.”

McGrane noted that both he and the day’s lead speaker, state Controller Brandon Woolf, serve on the Land Board. Both also are outspoken advocates of government transparency. “So, to kick off IDOG and highlight openness in government … we want to kick it off by making sure we are open and transparent,” he said, “and hopefully encouraging not just state officials but local officials all around the state of Idaho to do the same.” 

As reported by the Idaho Press, the violation occurred during the board’s  Aug. 15 meeting in which board member Attorney General Raúl Labrador made a motion to go into executive session but did not cite the exemption under the Idaho Open Meeting Law that justified the closed-door meeting. The law requires that the code section be included in the motion. The violation was cured at the Sept. 1 special meeting by formally acknowledging the error by unanimous vote of the board, and re-doing the business at issue. 

McGrane noted that the four IDOG sessions this fall, over four months, will cover transparency in finance, issues regarding lobbying and campaign finance, open meeting laws and public records.

Betsy Russell, IDOG president, also welcomed the participants, 80% of whom were participating online via Idaho Public Television’s InSession streaming service. “IDOG’s mission is to foster open government, supervised by an informed and engaged citizenry,” she said. “We believe that we all benefit when the public, the media and government officials are fully aware of the public’s rights to access government information and observe the conduct of the public’s business.”

Russell then introduced Woolf, who is in his third full term as the state’s elected controller. “Brandon started Transparent Idaho in 2012 to provide better access for Idaho citizens to state government financial data, and it has expanded significantly since then,” she said. “He has made government transparency a hallmark of his tenure as state controller.”

Woolf then discussed how public trust in government has been declining nationwide, after hitting a peak in 1964, and how transparency can restore trust, along with other benefits including deterring fraud and increasing accountability.

Woolf shared this quote: “Obscurity is the best friend of conspiracy.” That followed several other quotations shared by McGrane in his introduction, including this quote from Mother Teresa: “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

Woolf led participants through the Transparent Idaho website, transparent.idaho.gov; its features; and the extensive, searchable, up-to-date financial data available there, from public employee salaries to expenditures of taxpayer dollars. In addition to state government and agency financial information, along with data from the state’s four-year colleges and universities, the site now is in the process of adding local government and school district data as well.

Woolf also covered Townhall Idaho, townhall.idaho.gov, a site he and Gov. Brad Little launched in 2022 to serve as an online one-stop-shop for all public meeting information for state executive branch agencies.

At the close of his presentation, with McGrane and Russell as moderators, Woolf fielded questions from participants, including both those present in person in the Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium and those participating online, who submitted their questions via email. Among the questions were some seeking information that’s not yet available on Transparent Idaho; Woolf pledged to continue increasing the data posted on the site, and said some of the information sought, including community college financial data, isn’t yet on the site but is on his team’s “to-do list.”

Here are some comments from the evaluations completed by participants in the Aug. 30 session:

From a citizen: “Congratulations on a fantastic job! I am very much heartened by the commitment to transparency and the encouragement of citizen engagement. Thank you to all for this fantastic tool and for educating us!”

From a state employee: “There is way more information on Transparent Idaho than I realized.”

From a reporter: “I didn’t know the Transparent Idaho website existed, which as a local reporter will be very useful. I look forward to looking at salaries and natural resource expenditures in each county.”

From a local elected official: “Thanks so much for putting this on! Sorry I couldn’t attend in person like I originally planned, but the online streaming option was SO convenient and worked perfectly.”

From a member of the news media: “There’s more data about local government entities available on the Transparent Idaho website than I realized. I can never get (my local) county officials to comply with requests for salary information. But, it’s on the Transparent Idaho website, so I can now easily find it. I look forward to that being the case for school districts as well.”

From a state employee: “I learned how to navigate the Transparent Idaho site and that some of the requests for information that we receive may be available there.”

From a citizen: “I plan to get more involved in state and local government now that I am retired and I believe some of what is available online as explained in the training will be helpful to me as I do that.”

From a citizen: “I am looking for employment, so knowing salaries of various state employees is helpful.”

From a former reporter and retired PIO: “I learned that Transparent Idaho is good for much more than finding out salaries. I particularly liked the primer on local government data.”

From a citizen: “Thank you for continuing this excellent programming!”

The full video of the Aug. 30 event, along with Woolf’s Powerpoint slides, are available for viewing at IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.

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