Gary, this effort is for you

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Gary Ingram is gone, but a friend is working to make sure he’s not forgotten.

Gary is the former Idaho legislator best known for writing Idaho’s public record and open meeting laws. Gary died Nov. 30. He was 84.

Mary Souza is a current Idaho legislator and friend of Gary’s who as a business person and citizen, long has been a proponent of government transparency. Now she’s Sen. Souza and an insider — but she’s an insider determined to open more windows so the light of public scrutiny can shine in.

Without going into detail now because the work is in its infant stages, Sen. Souza has been researching and coordinating with experts at the state capital to recommend modest but important changes to Idaho’s public record laws. That’s wonderful news.

Having fought over the years to provide important information citizens have a right to know, including police officer discipline, big payoffs to county employees and details of a severance package for a school district administrator, The Press has struggled with shortcomings in the way these laws are written. That’s not a reflection on Ingram’s work but more likely, the modern reality of loopholes being exploited and the ease with which public officials can dispense taxpayers’ money to make embarrassing problems disappear.

The timing of Sen. Souza’s work could hardly be better. Idaho and Michigan are the only states that have no requirements for candidates to disclose important financial information that could reveal existing or potential conflicts of interest. A group of Idaho legislators is determined to change that in the session beginning in a few weeks.

According to the legislative panel’s recommendation last month, all candidates for elective office at the state, legislative, county or city level would be required to disclose:

• Primary employer and job title;

• All entities they own or serve as an officer;

• Every entity that has paid them $5,000 or more in the past year;

• All the boards on which they serve;

• Their spouse’s name, employer and occupation.

It’s never easy to determine where public servants’ privacy rights end and the public’s right to know begins. Souza and the 2018 Idaho Legislature could go a long way toward ensuring a better balance is found between those two vital interests.

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