Close to 100 people gathered at open government seminars in Pocatello and Idaho Falls in October, to learn in detail what can and can’t be done under Idaho’s Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act.
“I learned how to serve the taxpayers within the law,” wrote a Power County official, in her evaluation of the Pocatello session. Wrote a Minidoka County records deputy, “Don’t ask why or what do you need it for.”
An interested citizen who attended the Idaho Falls session wrote, “Nice variety – slide show, lecture, booklets, role playing.”
Bannock County Prosecutor Stephen Herzog summed up the session like this: “Great and informative and fun.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was the leader of both sessions. In Pocatello, the group gathered at Idaho State University’s Pond Student Union, where ISU Associated Vice President Stuart Summers welcomed the crowd, and sponsors ISU and the Idaho State Journal provided a much-appreciated light dinner of sandwich wraps, fruit, soda and cookies during the break. In the spacious room at the Student Union, seminar participants gathered at tables in the back to visit, share impressions and eat before reconvening for the second half of the evening’s program.
In Idaho Falls, Monte LaOrange, managing editor of the Post Register, welcomed the crowd, which, as in Pocatello, included reporters, photographers, editors, public officials and employees, law enforcement officers, clerks, deputies, state legislators and interested citizens. The Post Register co-sponsored the Idaho Falls session, which was held in the multi-purpose room of Longfellow Elementary School; a spread of hearty snacks was laid out during the mid-session break.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell also helped lead the program, and members of the audience participated as well, taking on roles in interactive skits, often with comic results.
Amid questions about how to avoid open meeting law violations, Kane suggested that public boards designate an “executive session ogre” who will vigorously object if a closed session veers away from the narrowly designated purposes for which one can be held.
Russell noted that twice in the month prior to the Oct. 19-20, 2016 sessions, state agencies had run into issues with closed meetings, from questions over notice of a special meeting of the state Board of Education to agenda issues at the Idaho Transportation Board – and both times, reporters were watching and called attention to the matter. “Nothing arouses more interest than secrecy,” Russell said.
In Idaho Falls, participants ranged from the mayor to local TV anchors.
“We are fortunate to have IDOG and the AG’s office committed to sunshine,” wrote a citizen who attended. “Thank you!”
Wrote another, “This was a solid investment of time, money and talent.”
A board secretary wrote, “Great refresher course!”
A reporter wrote that he learned something he can immediately put to use: “How to more precisely craft requests.”
A local prosecutor said she’d sum up the session as “what the public is entitled to know for government to work.”
Wrote a citizen, “I learned that almost all aspects of government meetings are open to the public.”
These sessions, made possible in part by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Best of the West Foundation, have been held around the state since 2004. More are planned, including in the Magic Valley this spring, and in North Idaho next fall.