August 18, 2009 in Idaho

Government transparency site launched in Idaho

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Wayne Hoffman
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - A nonprofit group on Tuesday launched a new “government transparency” Web site designed to give anyone who’s interested details about state and local government spending in Idaho, from a mayor’s salary to an agency’s computer purchases.

“Transparency is a non-partisan issue - it’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat, it’s not something that typically divides people,” said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that launched the site, “OurIdaho.com.”

Through a series of public records request, Hoffman, a former newspaper reporter and former spokesman for then-GOP Congressman Bill Sali, gathered up salary and expenditure data from all Idaho state agencies, major cities, school districts, and highway districts going back 18 months, and fashioned them into the searchable Web site.

“Over the next several months, we’re going to be adding to that data,” he said. “Without that data, how can we begin to have a debate about the size of government? … Hopefully it’ll shed some new light on how your government operates.”

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, proposed a state-run government transparency Web site during this year’s legislative session, but the measure was rejected amid cost questions. State Controller Donna Jones also said then that her office was working toward such a service, but wouldn’t propose starting it in the midst of a state budget crunch.

Hoffman’s site is entirely funded by private donations, which also support the operations of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which he described as a “free-market think tank.” He said the state controller’s office was very helpful in gathering the data; he thanked to staffers from the office who attended his kickoff press conference.

Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, when asked about the project, said, “I think it’s a great thing - I’m kind of a proponent of transparency as well. We should have it.” He added, “What Wayne has done is done a lot of research that a lot of citizens may not know how to do or may not be able to do.”

Among the data on the site are salaries for state and local employees. A quick search showed the governor’s salary $111,989 a year, and the mayor of Coeur d’Alene’s at $2,700 a month, a figure the city confirmed.

Hoffman ran into trouble when he submitted his information request to Coeur d’Alene, which refused to release employee first names on the grounds that that would constitute identifying their gender. Only first initials are shown for Coeur d’Alene city employees in the data.

“We’re not done with Coeur d’Alene,” said Hoffman. “I’m sure they’ll recognize that state law is explicit - names of public employees are public, both the first and last names.”


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