President’s Column: A chance to learn about open meeting, public records laws

By Betsy Russell

Everyone in Idaho – including reporters, public officials and citizens – should know about the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records law, what’s in them, and how to comply.

That’s why Idahoans for Openness in Government (IDOG) has partnered with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to put on lively, interactive seminars about these two important laws each year since 2004, all around the state. This year, the IDOG sessions are coming to the Treasure Valley.

The first in this series of workshops took place in McCall on Sept. 21, when more than 80 people gathered in the basement community room of the Idaho First Bank for a three-and-a-half-hour workshop (counting a break for refreshments). Those attending ranged from city, county and fire district officials to clerks, reporters, citizen watchdogs and more.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the public officials among the crowd that they can call him with open meeting questions, but noted, “Just know that when you call, our most likely advice is going to be to open it up. … The policy is openness.”

Among the points brought out at the workshop: Because two-thirds of a governing body must vote to go into executive session, that means on a five-member board, it takes four votes. Three aren’t enough – they’re just 60 percent. And if just three members of the five-member board have shown up at the meeting, they can’t go into executive session at all – the vote must be two-thirds of the board, not two-thirds of those present. They can still conduct business, though, Kane noted – in the open.

The crowd participated in interactive skits to learn about the open meetings and public records laws, with one casting local citizen watchdog Dennis Stewart as “Helpful, the Deputy City Clerk” and an animated Cascade City Councilor Judy Nissula as “Bluster, the Citizen,” who was initially highly suspicious as she contacted the clerk about a public records request. There were laughs, snacks, lots of questions and answers and lots of learning.

Two more seminars are scheduled as part of this series; the next will be on Oct. 7 at Nampa City Hall, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune and the City of Nampa, from 6-9:30 p.m.; and the third Oct. 20 at Boise State Public Radio in Boise, co-sponsored by Boise State Public Radio and the Idaho Statesman, and also running from 6-9:30 p.m.

Don’t miss these! It’s the first time that IDOG’s open government worships have returned to the Treasure Valley since late 2012.

Similar sessions were conducted last year in Moscow, Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint; next year, they’ll head back to eastern Idaho, and continue around the state on a three-year rotation.

IDOG is Idaho’s non-profit coalition for open government; its board members range from retired Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to prominent attorney-lobbyist Skip Smyser to CWI trustee and citizen activist Emily Walton. Other board members are Idaho Statesman Managing Editor Bill Manny, Lewiston Tribune Publisher A.L. “Butch” Alford, retired Idaho Public TV General Manager Peter Morrill, Jan Wall of the Idaho Commission for Libraries, Elinor Chehey of the League of Women Voters of Idaho, retired state Archivist Steve Walker, BSU journalism Prof. Seth Ashley, and Post Register Editorial Page Editor Corey Taule. I’m the organization’s president, and the Idaho Press Club is among its founding members. There’s more info at IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.

Betsy Russell is a Boise-based reporter for The Spokesman-Review newspaper, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.