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

Groups host refresher on open meeting laws

From KMVT-TV

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Members of the press, the public and local government met in Twin Falls Tuesday afternoon for a seminar on openness in government.

The roundtable was put together through a partnership between the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government.

The meeting gave those in attendance a refresher, or even a lesson on what is and is not covered by open meeting and public records laws.

“There are some changes in the law year-to-year, but more so than that there are changes in people. That is, local government folks change and you have new city councils and new mosquito abatement districts that are elected or whatever else,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “So to make certain that all those people have that opportunity to learn what the law is and to act in accordance with the law, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

For information on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws you can visit the attorney general’s website at www.ag.idaho.gov.

From KMVT-TV

Vermont passes ethics, disclosure laws; now Idaho’s one of just two states without

From Eye on Boise/The Spokesman-Review

Thanks to legislative action this year in Vermont, Idaho is now one of just two states in the nation with no requirements for personal financial disclosure by state lawmakers or other elected or appointed officials. Idaho had been one of three states with that distinction. Now it’s just Idaho and Michigan.

S.8, the legislation that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed into law on June 14, includes a series of ethics reforms; it passed the Senate unanimously, and the House, 120-24. Its provisions include:

DISCLOSURE: Requirements for candidates and office-holders to disclose all income sources over $5,000, though not the specific amounts; the requirement includes income for both the candidate and candidate’s spouse. Candidates also will be required to disclose all entities on which they serve; companies in which they or a spouse own more than 10 percent; leases or contracts with the state in which the candidate or spouse has a 10 percent or more interest; and whether the candidate’s spouse or domestic partner is a lobbyist. Also, candidates for statewide offices will be required to release their federal tax returns.

REVOLVING DOOR: Legislators or executive officers will have to wait one year after leaving office before they could become lobbyists.

CONTRACTOR CONTRIBUTIONS: Sole-source contracts with those who have made campaign contributions are prohibited, as are campaign contributions by those holding state sole-source contracts.

ETHICS COMMISSION: Vermont will establish a State Ethics Commission, effective Jan. 1, 2018, with power to accept, review and refer complaints.

CONFLICTS: Every town, city and incorporated village in Vermont is required to adopt conflict-of-interest prohibitions for its elected officials and employees by July 1, 2019. The Vermont Secretary of State will then accept written complaints of violations, forward them to the town in question, and report them to the Ethics Commission.

Vermont’s move comes as the Idaho Legislature has appointed a working group of 10 lawmakers to study possible changes to Idaho’s laws on campaign finance reporting and ethics. Idaho currently has no “revolving door” law or financial disclosure requirements. Those are among the reasons the state earned a “D-minus” in the State Integrity Investigation in 2015, which compared states and their ethics and disclosure laws, practices and enforcement.

From Eye on Boise/The Spokesman-Review

Nampa school board to re-do superintendent hiring, after open meeting complaint

From Idaho Education News

by Clark Corbin

Nampa School District trustees are expected to void hiring “Candidate A,” and formally hire Paula Kellerer as district superintendent Wednesday night.

The following day, Idaho Education News filed a complaint with the Canyon County prosecutor’s office alleging the district violated Idaho’s open meeting law by conducting public business in secret.

Nampa officials then issued a news release announcing Kellerer’s hire. District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck later said Kellerer was “Candidate A.”

Trustees and district officials have denied breaking the open meeting law.

Nevertheless, the board will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday to void its May 9 action and acknowledge that EdNews filed the complaint. The school board is ”willing to take action to void prior action in order to cure any perceived violation,” according to a written statement from the district.

Board members are then expected to offer the job to Kellerer by name and consider her contract.

As part of the board agreeing to void its previous action, Canyon County chief deputy prosecuting attorney Samuel Laugheed will not pursue charges against the district.

“In short, this office will elect against initiating formal enforcement proceedings on behalf of the public as authorized by Idaho Code §74-208 upon the district’s timely performance of the remedial measures it has proposed,” Laugheed wrote in a May 26 letter to Idaho Education News and the school district.

Laugheed wrote that the district’s decision to void its May 9 action was important.

“Such remediation, even absent acknowledgement of actual violation, is sufficient to this office’s inquiry as it remove the taint of impropriety from the action, regardless of whether such impropriety exists in law or public perception,” Laugheed wrote.

Kellerer succeeds outgoing Superintendent David Peterson, who retires June 30. Kellerer most recently served as Northwest Nazarene University’s dean of College of Adult and Graduate Studies.

Click here to read EdNews formal complaint to Canyon County prosecuting attorney.

From Idaho Education News

Light shines on controversial contract

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

COEUR d’ALENE — The Coeur d’Alene School District’s website includes a database of employment contracts for personnel ranging from administrators to teachers.

But when the contract of former Superintendent Matt Handelman was recently updated to include stipulations on his resignation and two months of consulting work, district officials determined the information was not for public consumption.

“I just shook my head and thought ‘Here they go again,’” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. “Public agencies do not have it at the top of their head that they are spending public money and the public has the right to know how the money is being spent.”

As part of its reporting for an April 29 story titled, “His job ends…pay doubles,” The Press submitted a public records request for any documents or contracts related to Handleman’s two-month tenure as a consultant with the district. That request was denied by the district, which stated the request is exempt from disclosure under Idaho personnel law.

After two additional attempts to obtain the records by The Press’s attorney, John Magnuson, the district finally conceded Monday night while still maintaining that Handelman’s amended contract is exempt from disclosure.

“It’s a little disturbing to see a public entity, funded by taxpayer money, spend taxpayer money to keep information from the public without any legal basis,” Magnuson said.

In a May 15 letter to Magnuson, Megan O’Dowd, legal counsel for the district, wrote the district believes the amended contract “both qualifies as a public record and is subject to the exception for personnel records identified in Idaho code.” The district, she added, released the amended contract Monday night only because Handelman himself gave written permission allowing them to do so.

“The district has a duty to protect the personnel records of its employees and comply with the process set forth in Idaho statute,” said Casey Morrisroe, school board chair. “A failure to do so could expose the district to potential liability.”

Handelman’s amended contract, approved by trustees on April 21, contains an identical description of his duties as a consultant as the one provided to The Press by Morrisroe. It also states Handelman “will not be required to maintain a desk or office present at the district office, or be present at district meetings and events.”

Morrisroe initially reported to The Press that Handelman would receive an additional $20,000 for his consulting work, almost doubling his monthly salary. The payment means Handelman will be paid more than $44,000 total for May and June.

Throughout Handelman’s search for a new job over the past year, district officials and Handelman himself spoke positively of the time he spent with the district. However, in the amended contract, both Handelman and the district agreed to not “disparage” one another in any communication or action.

The contract also includes a confidentiality clause, with both parties agreeing the contents of the document will not be disclosed or released to “any person, entity, or media” without written consent from the other party. Morrisroe would not say why the confidentiality clause was included in the amended contract.

When Souza was informed of the decision by the Coeur d’Alene School District to not disclose Handelman’s amended contract, she said she contacted the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. Within 30 minutes, Souza said, she was provided with a relevant, 2012 court case from southern Idaho involving a local newspaper and the Blackfoot School District. Magnuson cited the same case in his second request for Handelman’s amended contract.

In that case, a citizen filed a public records request for the separation contract of a superintendent who had retired. When the district refused, citing Idaho personnel law, the citizen took the district to court. The local newspaper joined the suit.

In his decision on the case, Judge David Nye ruled in favor of the citizen and newspaper.

The only difference between the Blackfoot School District’s initial contract with the former superintendent and the separation contract, Nye added, is the separation contract contained language directing district officials to place the separation contract in the superintendent’s personnel file to “protect it from disclosure efforts made under the Idaho Public Records Act.”

“Parties cannot exempt a public record from disclosure and hide it from the public simply by placing it in a personnel file and declaring the personnel file exemption to be applicable to it,” Nye wrote.

The 2012 decision by Nye was a local one and does not set legal precedent for all Idaho counties, Magnuson said. But any judge in Idaho trying a similar case would give Nye’s analysis “considerable weight,” he added.

“If you get your personnel stamp out and stamp it on everything in the world, it doesn’t mean it’s actually exempt,” Magnuson said. “You can go get that stamp, but it isn’t going to carry the day with the guy in the black robe.”

When asked by The Press if legislators should look at public record law next session in light of the Coeur d’Alene School District’s refusal to disclose information, Souza said it should. But more important to Souza is that this instance serve as a reminder to public entities, as well as their legal teams, that they must be aware of the state’s public record laws and any new updates to them.

“We should expect that legal counsel is advising our entities and keeping them up to date,” Souza said. “This decision is five years old and the district is still telling people it can’t be given because it’s in a personnel file, which is obviously misinformation.”

At the Coeur d’Alene School District, Morrisroe said Trina Caudle, director of secondary education, will continue to serve as “acting superintendent.” The additional responsibilities, Morrisroe added, will cause Caudle’s salary to increase by $3,000 per month.

The district’s board of trustees hopes to have an applicant selected to serve as interim superintendent for the 2017-2018 school year, Morrisroe added.

“It is our hope and expectation to have that position filled by June 30,” Morrisroe said. “The board will also be working to develop a nationwide search process to permanently fill our superintendent vacancy. We expect that search to commence in the fall and we look forward to engaging the community in this process.”

The Press has submitted a public records request for Caudle’s amended contract.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Principal repays school credit card charges, announces retirement; public records reveal details

From the Idaho Statesman

RECORDS SHED LIGHT ON BARBIERI’S CALL FOR LESS TRANSPARENCY

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

by Maureen Dolan

COEUR d’ALENE — Rep. Vito Barbieri didn’t want to talk about his plan to change Idaho’s public records law to shield most state lawmakers’ communications from public disclosure.

Ironically, it took a public records request for the Dalton Gardens Republican’s email messages to find out what he was thinking when he proposed this legislation.

Through that public records request, I gleaned some other interesting information showing an existing lack of transparency when it comes to state lawmakers’ email messages.

“It should be noted that the Idaho Legislature has no email retention policy and members may delete emails at any time and at their discretion, except when a public records request has been made. At that point, emails related to that public records request may not be deleted until the request is fulfilled,” wrote Terri Kondeff, Idaho Legislative Services’ chief operations officer, in a message sent with the records I requested.

Now that’s a public records policy Idaho lawmakers should be working to change.

But instead, we have House Bill 233, a measure that would alter Idaho’s Public Records Act to exempt a good chunk of legislators’ emails, text messages and other forms of correspondence from public disclosure. For example, all communications between lawmakers would be exempt.

Rep. Barbieri didn’t return phone calls or respond to email messages I sent him March 1 after he pitched the idea to the Idaho Legislature’s House State Affairs Committee.

My request for copies of email messages related to public records that were sent or received by Barbieri since Jan. 1 returned 80 pages that included 60 messages from people opposed to his bill.

A blend of unique messages and form letters, the sentiment was the same throughout the emails:

  • “The public’s business should be public, with very few exceptions. The communications of our elected officials should not be subject to special privileges that allow them to keep secrets from their constituents.”
  • “We rely on openness in government and public records to keep people informed about their government. Law making is a public business and this bill is restrictive.”
  • “The Idaho Legislature should be increasing transparency with the public rather than hiding from it.”

I received one email response sent by Rep. Barbieri to one of the constituents who contacted him with concerns.

He told the writer he realizes his bill appears to limit transparency in government, but “nothing nefarious is occurring with respect to communications between legislators.”

Rep. Barbieri argued that transparency is necessary when it comes to enforcing policy and law, but not so much for “arriving at a consensus on creating public policy.”

“Ideas are shared and discounted. Ideas are sometimes half-baked. Reaching a consensus necessarily requires brainstorming, and critical analysis of wording, and just as importantly the freedom to speak one’s mind without the concern of public disclosure of the substance of, for example, the critical analyis,” he wrote.

The making of policy, the process of drafting, discussing and finalizing it, need not be transparent, but the process of passing legislation through debate, argument and amendment should be, Barbieri wrote.

He wrote he will not be bringing the bill forward this year because the “particulars of the wording need plenty of work,” and this year’s legislative session is coming to a close.

In the meantime, perhaps we should be ready before the 2018 legislative session to submit a public records request for every email message sent or received by an Idaho lawmaker during the session, before they’re deleted.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Judge rules East Idaho lawmaker’s secret recording is public record

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

BY BRYAN CLARK

Portions of a transcript from a secretly recorded meeting between Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, will be made public following a public records lawsuit filed by the Post Register against Nate.

Nate secretly recorded the private meeting with Hill, which occurred shortly after the Republican primary in May.

Judge Joel Tingey reviewed a transcript of the recording under court seal and concluded that portions of the recorded conversation constitute public records and must be released.

“It is the court’s opinion that statements made with regard to proposed or enacted legislation do relate to the conduct or administration of the public’s business,” Tingey wrote.

Tingey also ruled that portions that deal with “electioneering, campaigning, and supporting or not supporting a candidate for a particular office do not rise to the level of conducting the public’s business.”

Hill publicly supported Nate’s challenger Doug Ricks during the Republican primary, and Tingey said that was the main topic of the conversation.

Tingey ruled he would redact the portions of the transcript which do not deal with public business and release it. Tingey also indicated that most of the transcript deals with matters other than public business.

“We still haven’t seen the transcript yet, so we are still evaluating the ruling, and will need to review the transcript before we decide whether or not to appeal (in order to get more of the transcript released),” said Steve Wright, the Post Register’s attorney.

Bryan Smith, Nate’s attorney, has filed a motion asking Tingey to reconsider his decision. Instead of redacting the portions of the transcript which are not public records, Smith argued, Tingey should only release those portions of the transcript which are public.

“If this court shows redacted portions of the transcript, such redaction will improperly disclose private information such as how long the private conversation lasted, how much of the total discussion was private versus how much was subject to disclosure, and perhaps other clues into (Nate’s) private business,” Smith wrote.

Wright filed an objection to the motion Monday, arguing that releasing snippets of the conversation wouldn’t amount to disclosing the public record.

Tingey has yet to rule on Smith’s motion to reconsider, which was filed Friday.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, previously told the Post Register that a member of the House secretly recording a private meeting with a Senate leader was “misconduct” and “conduct unbecoming” a representative.

Conduct unbecoming is a formal ethics violation that could be reviewed by the House Committee on Ethics if a member of the House makes a written complaint.

Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, Majority Caucus Chairman John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, also condemned the practice of secretly recording private meetings in prior interviews with the Post Register.

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

Idaho’s Sunshine laws need reform

Editorial from the Twin Falls Times-News

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told a reporter last week that he hopes to overhaul parts of the state’s Sunshine Laws — those that promise transparency in government — when the Legislature reconvenes next month.

It’s a long time coming.

Among Denney’s plans are adding serious penalties to those who violate the laws, boosting fines 10-fold from $250 to $2,500. He wants to require candidates and political-action committees to report contributions of more than $1,000 within 24 hours. And he wants all campaign-finance reports posted online, a move that would greatly increase transparency when it comes to determining how money influences state politics.

The proposed changes were first reported by IPTV’s Melissa Davlin, a former Times-News reporter.

Perhaps the best suggestion by Denney is more transparency to help identify those in PACS who spend the political contributions, and crackdowns on so-called “gray money” — cash that moves from PAC to PAC, making it difficult to determine where the cash originated.

Another great proposal: a requirement for any candidate or cause to report contributions of $500 or more, greatly expanding requirements for who would have to disclose political contributions, such as school board candidates.

Denney also hopes to speed up the reporting for political expenditures. Under current law, a campaign doesn’t have to report an expenditure over $1,000 until it is billed, which sometimes occurs after an election. Denney wants those bills reported as soon as the money is committed.

As Davlin pointed out in her report, many of the ideas come from Democratic Secretary of State candidate Holli Woodings. We’re not too troubled. A good idea is a good idea, and Denney, a Republican, should be commended for recognizing one when he sees it, even if it did come from a Democrat.

Denney is shopping his ideas to lawmakers before the session, and so far he said he’s received mostly positive feedback.

The secretary’s proposals haven’t received much press yet, but get ready to hear plenty more when lawmakers gather in Boise next month.

In the meantime, contact your lawmaker and tell him residents deserve a more transparent government. Denney’s plans are a good start.

It’s in lawmakers’ best interest to listen to you. Voters are much more likely to trust their elected leaders when they can easily understand who is backing them.

Simply put, it’s good for democracy.

Editorial from the Twin Falls Times-News

IDOG open government seminars draw crowds in Pocatello, Idaho Falls

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.