Twin Falls IDOG session leads to reforms

TwinFalls13_IDOG_04TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Close to 100 people filled the Twin Falls Center for the Arts Auditorium for an IDOG seminar on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Those in attendance ranged from state senators and representatives to employees and officials of cities, counties, school districts, fire districts, police departments, highway districts and housing authorities, to news media including print and broadcast journalists, to lots of interested citizens.

In dramatic fashion, the Twin Falls session brought out problems in open meeting law compliance by the city of Twin Falls, when a city council member expressed concerns during the break about practices her city was following involving closed subcommittee meetings. That led eventually to numerous news reports, a formal complaint filed by IDOG with the county prosecutor, and the city reforming its practices to make all its meetings and processes much more open and transparent.

Even that night, it was clear that the session, sponsored by IDOG and the Twin Falls Times-News, was having an impact.

“Everybody should go through this!” one elected official wrote in her evaluation of the session.

A state senator wrote that his takeaway lesson was: “When in doubt – be more open.”

The audience participated in interactive skits to demonstrate what to do – and what not to do – to comply with the state’s two key open government laws. There were also presentations, stories, and an informative slide show about the requirements of the law and what they mean, featuring Attorney General Wasden, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, and IDOG President Betsy Russell, a newspaper reporter.

A planning and zoning commissioner who attended called the session “a great practical lesson in public access to government records.”

Wrote a library board member, “OK, we’re doing a few things that we need to fix – and can!”

A citizen and former school board member wrote that he “learned the ins and outs – what can and can’t be done to abide by the law.” He’ll put that to use, he wrote, “Educating board members on executive session – correcting noticing.”

A county commissioner wrote that he learned, “Commissioners may be seen together, but cannot conduct business,” outside of a noticed, open public meeting.

A public employee wrote that the session “clarified posting of notice request, in detail.”

And a citizen wrote that the session was an eye-opening education about open meeting laws. In the future, he said, he’ll “understand news articles better.”

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