Why openness in government matters and how to make sure it happens; sign up for free virtual seminar Jan. 5

From the Idaho Press

by Betsy Z. Russel

BOISE — As a reporter who covers government, a central part of my mission is to inform citizens about what their government is doing. That requires that the government operate openly, and not in secret.

But it’s certainly not only reporters who benefit from openness in government. It’s at the heart of our nation’s ideals that we have, in President Abraham Lincoln’s words, a “government of the people, by the people (and) for the people.”

For the people to drive our government, the people must be informed about the actions their government takes in their name. Only then can they be informed, engaged citizens and make our system of self-government work. That’s why we have a free press in our nation, independent of the government. It’s why we have rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. And it’s why we have laws requiring openness in government, including two key laws in our state: The Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Act.

I am a co-founder and longtime president of Idahoans for Openness in Government, a broad-based, non-profit coalition that includes people from inside and outside of government, the media, civic organizations and more. Since 2004, IDOG has partnered with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to present free training across our state on these two key laws, what they require, and how to comply with them.

We’ve taken our show on the road to every corner of the state, from Rexburg to Lewiston, from Idaho Falls to Coeur d’Alene, from Twin Falls to Sandpoint, and from Boise to Bonners Ferry. But the pandemic has put a crimp in our in-person events the past two years, prompting us to turn to creating virtual versions of our sessions.

Last January, more than 500 people across the state participated in our free online session on open meetings in a pandemic. It was highly productive and helpful in making sure all of us continue to be able to monitor our government at the state and local levels, and that our government agencies know how to preserve openness even amid a pandemic.

We hope to be back on the road within the year, but for now, are planning a statewide virtual open government seminar for Wednesday, Jan. 5, running from 2-4 p.m. MST.

“I often hear from constituents who have questions about Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws, and I know there are a lot of new public officials and reporters who are navigating these waters for the first time,” Wasden said in a news release about the event. “The virtual seminar is a good way to address this demand statewide.”

Participants will learn about the Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Act, how they work and what they require. It’s free and open to anyone; it’s especially recommended for elected officials, government staff, reporters, and interested members of the public.

IDOG’s open government seminars are recommended by the Office of the Attorney General, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho Press Club.

Those who would like to participate are asked to register online; there’s more information and a registration link at this address: openidaho.org/upcoming-seminars. Participants will be able to submit questions via email during the seminar, and it will be live-streamed on YouTube. It also will be recorded and made available for those who’d like to view it later.

Panelists will be Wasden, myself, and Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane; Scott Graf, the attorney general’s public information officer, will serve as moderator to receive and pose your questions.

This session marks 50 open government trainings that Wasden and IDOG have hosted since 2004.

You can find more information at IDOG’s website, openidaho.org. Consider tuning in to this virtual seminar. Please pass the word to anyone you think could benefit from this – your local government agencies and their staffs, your favorite news providers, your elected officials, your friends or family.

It’s a great way to open a new year in 2022 that will see a lot going on in government, from politics, elections and redistricting to local efforts to cope with everything from growth to taxes to transportation.

It was back in 1863 when President Lincoln spoke of the “great task before us,” to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 2022 is coming, and we’re still working on it.

From the Idaho Press

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