There was a time when it was common practice for the Idaho Legislature to conduct its committee meetings behind closed doors.
One day late in the 1969 session Ken Robison, the Idaho Statesman’s editorial page editor at the time and still a Boise resident, assigned a Statesman photographer to take a photo of the closed door that was preventing him from sitting in on the Revenue and Taxation Committee meeting.
In the next day’s newspaper the photo and Robison’s editorial complaining about the closed meeting ran. It apparently did the trick, because the doors mostly remained open after that.
Not all dust-ups over access to public records and meetings end so well. So, it’s a good thing the Idaho Open Meeting Law came along in 1974 and the Idaho Public Records Law in 1990. Though these laws have been refined over the years and access has mostly improved, the passages in the Idaho Code don’t do transparency any good unless they are known, understood and used properly when openness is denied.
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Fortunately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has been a champion when it comes to educating government agency employees, public officials, the media and the public about their rights and responsibilities regarding public records and open meetings.
We recommend two upcoming seminars that will provide excellent teachable moments on Oct. 7 in Nampa and Oct. 20 in Boise. Journalists and local government officials are the primary targets, but both are free and open to the public (please RSVP). The workshops are sponsored by IDOG — Idahoans for Openness in Government -- and led by a group including Wasden, Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review.
There is plenty to learn and apply. At a McCall seminar Monday attended by 80 people, some finer points were expanded upon. As reported by the Spokesman-Review: “Because two-thirds of a governing body must vote to go into executive session, that means on a five-member board, it takes four votes. Three aren’t enough – they’re just 60 percent. And if just three members of the five-member board have shown up at the meeting, they can’t go into executive session at all. . .”
Everybody talks about openness being the new norm in government in a more enlightened and transparent world. But there’s nothing quite like referencing from the informational booklets Wasden’s office provides, and citing the pertinent passages from the code when facing resistance.
Idaho law provides for some exemptions to public access to records — records involving investigations, attorney-client privilege, personnel or contract negotiations. But government agencies that keep records and hold meetings do best by the public when openness and transparency is the default policy.
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