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.”

Strong turnout at Hailey open government workshop

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden discusses the Idaho Public Records Law with a super-engaged crowd in Hailey on Monday evening.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden discusses the Idaho Public Records Law with a super-engaged crowd in Hailey on Monday evening.

HAILEY, Idaho – A super-engaged crowd of 45 gathered in the Old Courthouse in Hailey on Monday evening, Oct. 14, 2013, to learn about Idaho’s open meetings and public records law, and those attending – government officials and staffers, reporters from the news media, and interested citizens – had plenty of questions.

By the time they left, the crowd gave the session top reviews, saying they’d learned plenty. Plus, each attendee left with numerous handouts, including the Idaho Attorney General’s handy Open Meeting Law Manual and Idaho Public Records Law Manual.

The Hailey session, co-sponsored by IDOG and the Idaho Mountain Express, featured a hearty buffet provided by the Mountain Express to help everyone through the evening.

It was the first of four open government seminars planned this week in southern and eastern Idaho, featuring Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, and IDOG President Betsy Russell. Tuesday night, the sessions come to Twin Falls; Wednesday, Fort Hall; and Thursday, Rexburg.

In reviews of the session, the Hailey crowd was highly impressed – and not just with the food (but that, too).

“I refined what I already know,” wrote a local prosecuting attorney.

“I learned that the public is owed openness and information,” wrote an elected school board trustee.

A reporter wrote that a top lesson was “Ask for what you need,” and as for something she’ll put to use right away at work: “Narrow requests.”

A county employee said after attending the seminar, his task is clear: “Trying to put more public record information online to provide easy access to the public.”

A citizen who attended came away with this lesson: “Your public work is PUBLIC. All of it.”

Lots of lessons learned about open meetings, records at Nampa IDOG seminar

NAMPA, Idaho – It was a cold winter night in Nampa, but more than 75 people filled the Nampa City Hall Council Chambers for an open meeting/public records workshop Jan. 9 led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, along with Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell.
Attendees ranged from citizens to elected officials, local district secretaries to newspaper reporters, and representatives of the cities of Nampa, Caldwell and Eagle, fire and irrigation districts, school districts, libraries, health districts, the Greater Middleton Parks & Rec Department, the Western Canyon Chronicle, the Messenger Index and more. The Idahoans for Openness in Government seminar was co-sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune.

“I learned how to request public records, which will help in my reporting,” wrote a reporter for a small newspaper in her evaluation of the session, adding that she learned, “Tons! This will make doing my job much easier.”

An elected official from a fire district called the session “extremely helpful and totally worth the time to help understand the laws.” Among things he learned that he’ll be able to put to use: “Open meeting laws, executive session rules, and documenting.”

A school board member reported learning, “Subcommittees are supposed to be OPEN,” and noted that is something that will be put to use in the school district.

Another reporter wrote of learning a surprise: “Attorney General Wasden has a sense of humor!” adding that the reporter came away “understanding open meeting laws much better.”

An elected official took away this lesson: “As a government-employed individual, remember everything is public.”

Wrote a citizen: “Every citizen should attend.”

The Nampa session was the 26th IDOG seminar held around the state since they started in 2004; it and the preceding sessions in December in Boise and Payette marked the first time the sessions have returned to the Treasure Valley since 2007.

Just in time for the Nampa seminar and hot off the press were newly updated copies of IDOG’s DVD, “Open Idaho: A User’s Guide to Idaho’s Open Meeting and Public Records Laws.” The DVD, which 35 of the evening’s attendees took home, contains much of the information presented at the seminars; it also includes a version of the interactive skits that audience members helped present at the seminar, presented this time with great flair by actors from the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

The full content of the “User’s Guide” DVD – plus additional features – is available on IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.

The Nampa seminar went late into the evening, due to its 7 p.m. start time. There were lots and lots of questions, but it was all wrapped up by 10 p.m. The later start time for this session was due to legislative activities in Boise the presenters were involved in that day; Kane, for example, was training Idaho’s entire state Legislature on ethics laws for much of the afternoon.

Fortunately for all, a big snowstorm that snarled traffic and made travel conditions hazardous the next morning didn’t hit until long after midnight – well after all session attendees were safe at home.

IDOG’s seminars are funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The three Treasure Valley sessions in December and January drew a total of nearly 200 people.

Crowd at Boise seminar learns how laws apply

BOISE, Idaho – More than 60 people attended the IDOG open government seminar held Dec. 6, 2012 at the Idaho Statesman, from school board members to newspaper reporters, journalism students to city and county officials, lawyers to firefighters, high school students to interested citizens.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden led the program, which also included Powerpoint presentations from Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, comments from IDOG President Betsy Russell and Statesman Managing Editor Bill Manny, and interactive skits to help drive all the points home – about how to comply with Idaho’s two key open government laws, the Idaho public records law and the Idaho open meeting law.

“I’m on a few small boards and now understand how the laws apply or don’t,” wrote a citizen volunteer who attended.

“Citizens have more rights to get info from public agencies than I thought,” wrote another in an evaluation of the evening, and another said she learned “how to proceed if I’m denied access.”

A reporter dubbed the session “solid information” and particularly appreciated learning about deadlines for responding to records requests. A college student newspaper staffer wrote that she appreciated learning about her rights as a journalist.

“Be aware of the statutes!” wrote a retired public official, who said that was his take-away from the evening.

Another participant, who also gave high ratings to the evening’s refreshments, said the lesson he learned was, “Consider that everything is public. Keep yourself covered.”

Commented a district fire chief, “We were here to assure our compliance.” He said he particularly appreciated the handouts, and definitely learned things he can put to use right away in his agency.

The IDOG seminar was co-sponsored by the Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio, and recommended by the Office of the Attorney General, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Counties, and the Idaho Press Club. The seminars are supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

IDOG, which stands for Idahoans for Openness in Government, is a non-profit coalition for open government whose mission is to promote open government and freedom of information. IDOG and Attorney General Wasden have been holding these sessions around the state since 2004; this was the first time they returned to the Treasure Valley since 2007. After the Boise seminar, additional sessions were set for Payette on Dec. 12, and in Nampa on Jan. 9, 2013.

Eye on Boise: Seminars on open meetings, public records draw well

From The Spokesman-Review

More than 230 people throughout North Idaho attended open government seminars last week in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and Lewiston. Each of the sessions, sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government, was led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and every attendee got the latest copies of his Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual and his Idaho Public Records Law Manual.

Local and state government officials, reporters and editors, and interested citizens all were invited and turned out in force. “My hope is that even if we are not able to sing in tune, we recognize that there is a sheet of music,” Wasden told the capacity crowd of nearly 100 in Coeur d’Alene.

The attorney general told the group in Moscow that some complain that people who make public records requests are “just fishing.” But, he said, “The public records act is a license to fish.” Public records have to be disclosed to the public.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the Sandpoint gathering, “Anytime you have a question with the open meeting law … resolve all doubts in favor of openness.”

Led by Wasden, Kane and myself (I’m the president of IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government), the sessions included humorous interactive skits that let participants demonstrate some of the requirements of the state’s open meetings and public records laws, along with what to do – and what not to do – to comply. IDOG has held these sessions around Idaho since 2004, and the Lewiston seminar Thursday night was its 23rd. The project is made possible in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. Partners in the project include the attorney general’s office, the Idaho Press Club, the Association of Idaho Cities and the Idaho Association of Counties.

Co-sponsoring the North Idaho seminars were newspapers throughout the region: the Bonner County Daily Bee in Sandpoint, The Spokesman-Review and Coeur d’Alene Press in Coeur d’Alene, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, and the Lewiston Tribune in Lewiston.

Lewiston Tribune owner A.L. “Butch” Alford, a charter board member of IDOG, told a crowd of 50, “Tonight’s mission is to enlighten the public, government officials from all levels and the press.”

All were well-represented, from city council members to board clerks to reporters and editors to state lawmakers. In their evaluations of the evening session, one reporter wrote, “A terrific review – and enjoyable.” An elected official wrote, “My entity needs to review our open meetings.” Wrote a school board member, “We need to be more careful with email,” adding that her takeaway was, “Don’t stall on public records requests and watch the emails.”

The sessions were an eye-opener for some in the audience, including one participant in Lewiston who has been working with a county task force and realized he may have slipped up on open meeting law requirements. “I MAY be in a hell of a lot of trouble,” he wrote in his evaluation, adding three exclamation points; he conferred directly with Wasden after the session on the steps he should take to make sure he’s in compliance.

Among the points that got a lot of attention:

• The Open Meeting Law says the public can attend the meeting but doesn’t say they can speak or participate; it just guarantees that citizens can observe.

• Emails are public records.

• Agencies can’t take 10 days to decide whether to release a public record in response to a request; that decision has to be made within three days. The law only allows taking up to 10 days to provide the records when it takes longer than the specified three days to locate or retrieve them.

A new law passed this year makes the first two hours of labor and the first 100 pages of copies free of charge in public records requests, excepting only those records for which there’s a separate fee-setting statute, such as records in court files.

“What this means is that 90 percent of your public records requests are going to be free,” Kane told the Sandpoint audience.

Issues covered included recent changes in the law, including a “cure” process for agencies that allows them to acknowledge and correct an open meeting law violation.

“Open meetings and public records are very important to us as a citizenry,” Wasden said. “In order for citizens to be involved, they have to know and understand what their government is doing.”

IDOG likely will hold another session this spring in Boise.

From The Spokesman-Review

Lewiston open government seminar an eye-opener for crowd of 50

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

At the IDOG open government seminar in Lewiston on Thursday night, A.L. “Butch” Alford, owner of the Lewiston Tribune and a charter board member of IDOG, told a crowd of 50, “Our mission is to foster open government, supervised by an informed and engaged citizenry. We believe we all benefit when the public, the media and government officials are fully aware of the public’s rights to access government information and observe the conduct of the public’s business.” Added Alford, “Tonight’s mission is to enlighten the public, government officials from all levels, and the press.”

All were well-represented in the group that filled a lecture hall at Lewis-Clark State College, from city council members to board clerks to reporters and editors to a state lawmaker. In their evaluations of the evening session, one reporter wrote, “A terrific review – and enjoyable.” An elected official wrote, “My entity needs to review our open meetings.” Wrote a school board member, “We need to be more careful with email,” adding that her takeaway was, “Don’t stall on public records requests and watch the emails.”

The session was an eye-opener for some in the audience, including one who’s been working with a county task force and who realized he may have slipped up on open meeting law requirements. “I MAY be in a hell of a lot of trouble,” he wrote in his evaluation, adding three exclamation points; he conferred directly with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden after the session on the steps he should take to make sure he’s in compliance.

“Compliance is very critical,” wrote a local government employee in her evaluation. An elected official wrote, “You can work with the law.”

The session focused on the Idaho Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law, what they require and what they don’t, and how everyone can make sure they comply with them. Wasden, who has led all 23 of the IDOG sessions held around the state since 2004, said, “In order for citizens to be involved, they have to know and understand what their government is doing.”

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the group, “The No. 1 goal of the open meeting law is compliance. … If you look at the open meeting law as an entity and say, ‘How can we get around it?’ you’ve defeated the basic purpose – openness.”

Issued covered included recent changes in the law, including a “cure” process for agencies that allows them to correct an open meeting law violation, and new fee provisions for public records that require any labor charges to be clearly itemized and charged at the hourly pay rate of the lowest-paid employee qualified to handle them, and also make, in most cases, the first two hours of labor and 100 pages of copies free.

There’s more information at the IDOG website, www.openidaho.org. IDOG stands for Idahoans for Openness in Government; Wasden’s office partners with the group in the open-government education project, which also is supported by the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho Association of Cities, the Association of Idaho Counties, and receives grant funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The Lewiston session wrapped up a week-long run of well-attended open government seminars in North Idaho, starting in Sandpoint on Monday and also hitting Coeur d’Alene and Moscow. A Boise session likely will be held this spring.

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

Moscow crowd learns about open meetings, public records laws

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

Despite stiff competition – a hard-fought UI basketball game against the Washington State Cougars and the downtown holiday lights parade – nearly 40 people turned out last night for IDOG’s open government seminar in the ornate, wood-paneled, hundred-year-old City Council chambers at Moscow City Hall. Those attending included the mayor, city and county attorneys, reporters and editors, academics and clerks, elected officials, interested citizens and agency staffers who deal with open records and meetings questions daily. The session was co-sponsored by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told the group that some might think someone making a public records request is “just fishing.” But, he said, “The public records act is a license to fish.” Public records have to be disclosed to the public.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the group, “Any time you have a question with the open meeting law … resolve all doubts in favor of openness.”

In humorous skits exploring what the public records and open meeting laws require, Moscow City Councilman Walter Steed, shown here, portrayed a lucky reporter – seated next to three county commissioners at a cafe, who are busy illegally conducting the county’s business as he overhears. (The commissioners were portrayed by Kenton Bird of the UI, Moscow City Attorney Randy Fife, and Moscow-Pullman Daily News staffer Kelcie Moseley). The scenario is actually based on a real case in Idaho.

The IDOG seminars move to Lewiston tonight.

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

Big crowd, lots of interest at CdA open government seminar

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

A whopping 92 people attended the open government seminar in Coeur d’Alene last night, sponsored by IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government, and co-sponsored by the Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press. Press Managing Editor Mike Patrick told the crowd it was the first time he could remember the two competing newspapers co-sponsoring an event. Among those attending were numerous local government officials and staffers, reporters for a variety of news media, political activists, several former state legislators and lots of interested citizens.


Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden singled out an audience member, former state Sen. Gary Ingram, for special recognition: Ingram is the author of much of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, including the key wording in the preamble:

“67-2340. Formation of public policy at open meetings. — The people of the state of Idaho in creating the instruments of government that serve them, do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies so created. Therefore, the legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

Said Wasden, “We owe a great thanks to give to Sen. Ingram for his work on this.”

Also recognized for traveling the farthest to attend: Bannock County Commissioner Howard Manwaring, who traveled from Pocatello to attend the session. It ran well into the evening because the audience had lots of questions, on everything from executive sessions to notice requirements to public records requests to minutes.

In interactive skits to demonstrate various nuances of the open meeting law and the Idaho public records law, actors included Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh, who portrayed an upset county commission chairman, and Kootenai County Commission Chairman Todd Tondee, who portrayed a county prosecutor. Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Maureen Nolan acted the part of “Trusty the city clerk,” opposite Coeur d’Alene Schools Superintendent Hazel Bauman, playing “Crusty, the reporter.”

Among the comments in the evening’s evaluations: From a school district clerk: “I learned some new information.” From another public employee: “How to keep my entity legal and in compliance.” Another attendee wrote that he learned: “Documents are meant to be public; give public officials a chance to provide them.” Wrote another, “My organization needs to change agenda format and will probably put minutes/agenda online.”

Every attendee got copies of the latest version of the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Manual and Public Records Law Manual; both also are online at his website here. Wrote a citizen who attended the Coeur d’Alene seminar, “The booklets will be a great help. There are ways to stay out of ‘trouble.’” Wrote another, “Be cooperative, be helpful, when in doubt check the book.” Tonight, the open government seminar will be in Moscow, and tomorrow, Lewiston; there’s more info here.

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

Sandpoint turns out for open government seminar

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

It’s a balmy 28 degrees in Sandpoint this morning, where last night more than 50 people packed the public meeting room at the Sandpoint Library to learn about Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws. “Open meetings and public records are very important to us as a citizenry,” Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told the group.

It was the first of four North Idaho seminars this week sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government, IDOG, in partnership with the Attorney General’s office and recommended by the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho Association of Counties and the Association of Idaho Cities. Last night’s seminar was co-sponsored by the Bonner County Daily Bee; publisher David Keyes said the turnout shows people here really want to know about these issues.

Among the points that got a lot of attention last night: The Open Meeting Law says the public can attend the meeting, but doesn’t say they can speak or participate; it just guarantees that citizens can observe. E-mails are public records. Agencies can’t take 10 days to decide whether or not to release a public record in response to a request; that decision has to be made within three days – the law only allows taking up to 10 days to provide the records when it takes longer than the specified three days to locate or retrieve them. And a new law passed this year makes the first two hours of labor and the first 100 pages of copies free of charge in public records requests, excepting only those records for which there’s a separate fee-setting statute, such as records in court files. “What this means is that 90 percent of your public records requests are going to be free,” Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the Sandpoint crowd.

Tonight, it’s on to Coeur d’Alene, where there’s been high interest, followed by Moscow on Wednesday and Lewiston on Thursday. Full disclosure here: I’m the president and a founding board member of IDOG. Last night was IDOG’s 20th open government seminar since 2004, and the first in North Idaho since 2005; Attorney General Wasden has led every seminar. There’s more info, including an online guide to these laws, at www.openidaho.org.

From Eye on Boise/Spokesman-Review

Learning about open records, meetings

May 27, 2010

MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho — It was a rainy spring evening in Mountain Home, but that didn’t stop a near-capacity crowd of about 50 from filling the Mountain Home Senior Center for a seminar on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws, complete with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden himself, interactive skits involving lots of audience members, and refreshments afterward.

Elmore County Commissioner Connie Cruser welcomed the crowd, and Wasden, Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell led the presentation, with plenty of help from audience members who got a chance to portray snoopy reporters, recalcitrant public officials, and others doing things the right way – and the wrong way – under the state’s key openness in government laws.

The session earned top marks from attendees in written evaluations.

“Great overview – where to find answers, who to call,” wrote one elected official who attended; she added, “I appreciated the hands-on, personal approach to this class.”

Bob Cooper of the Idaho Attorney General’s office handled set-up, while the senior center folks had the cookies and punch ready. A banner hung along the wall, stating the preface to Idaho’s Open Meeting Law: “FORMATION OF PUBLIC POLICY AT OPEN MEETINGS. The people of the state of Idaho in creating the instruments of government that serve them, do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies so created. Therefore, the Legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

Every participant in Mountain Home said he or she learned something that could be put to use right away. That included a public official who said he’d “reinforce policy concerning open meeting requirements;” a board clerk listed “posting of notice and agenda;” a citizen wrote “how to interact with government agencies;” and a county employee wrote “correct place to post agendas.”

“I’m more clear about the open meeting laws,” wrote a city zoning administrator. A political candidate gained understanding of the open meeting law and would recommend the seminar to others.

An elected official wrote that his takeaway was this: “Watch what you do very carefully – follow the laws.”

The Mountain Home session was the 23rd such seminar held by IDOG and the Idaho Attorney General since 2004.