50 gather to learn about open meetings, records in Twin Falls workshop

From IDOG

Fifty people gathered in a Twin Falls meeting room on the afternoon of July 18, 2017 to learn about Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws, in a session led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government and the Twin Falls Times-News.

Deputy Attorney General explained that the Idaho Open Meeting Law is “your ticket to the show,” with the show being government. It allows the public to be there and observe the meeting, he noted, but not necessarily participate in the meeting. “So just as you couldn’t go to your child’s play or a show on Broadway and jump up on the stage – though that might be fun – it doesn’t provide for that.”

And Kane said agencies sometimes complain to him about public records requests they receive: “This is just a fishing expedition.” But, he said, “The public records law gives them that right – to fish around. You may have to pay for it, but you have the right to those documents.”

Rules for charging fees for public records requests; how the content determines whether something’s a public record, whether it’s on a government computer or an official’s personal phone; and the need to be in open, public session to make decisions all were among topics explored. This was the 40th open government workshop conducted by IDOG and Wasden since 2004; it was the fourth in Twin Falls.

The first half of the session, held at the Center for the Arts Auditorium, focused on the Idaho Open Meeting Law, and included interactive skits in which members of the audience were called upon to play roles as reporters, government officials and more doing some of the right – and some of the wrong – things needed to comply with the open meeting law.

The second portion of the program focused on the Idaho Public Records Act. Again, audience members were called upon to take on roles in skits to help illustrate what is and isn’t allowed and how the law is supposed to work.

Wasden shared stories from his career that helped highlight the role of the two laws and how they play out in Idaho, as did Betsy Russell, reporter for The Spokesman-Review and president of IDOG. Travis Quast, publisher of the Times-News, welcomed the crowd and served as host.

Attendees gave the experience high marks. In evaluations, a city clerk said the session gave her “information everyone needs.” A school board member said he learned “draft minutes = public record.” “It was quite informative,” wrote a highway district employee. “Great overview of doing the public’s business in public,” said a city worker.

“Every time I attend I learn something more!” wrote one attendee. “So glad I came!”

“Do your homework and know the laws,” was what an elected official said she learned. Plus, something she plans to put to use right away: “Remember that electronic records are public.”

A TV station news director came away with something he plans to put to use: In a public records request, the first two hours of labor and 100 copies are free. And a county commissioner summed up his takeaway from the program like this: “The public has the right to know.”

IDOG is planning additional seminars this year in North Idaho in October in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston.

From IDOG

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