One way to promote compliance with the state’s open meetings and public records laws is simply to educate people about them, from public officials to reporters to citizens, so that everyone knows what’s required and what they’re supposed to do. That’s the idea behind a series of seminars that Idahoans for Openness in Government (IDOG) has been holding around the state since 2004 in partnership with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; you may have gone to or heard about one near you. It seems to be working; the Associated Press reported earlier this year that since the seminars started, questions to the Attorney General’s office about possible open meetings and public records law violations have dropped – from two to three a week, to roughly one a month.
IDOG (its website is www.openidaho.org) is a non-profit coalition of media folks, public officials, civic-minded groups and others; I’m IDOG’s president and co-founder (with Dean Miller, the Idaho Falls Post-Register editor who’s currently on a Nieman fellowship at Harvard). Our seminars proved so popular and we got so many requests that we applied for, and received, a $30,000 grant to create a portable, DVD version of the seminar that we can make available to anyone. That’s in production now, and will be out early next year. A highlight of the DVD will be skits driving home what is and isn’t permitted under the law, which at the seminars are a fun, audience-participation thing. On the DVD, the skits are staged in the Idaho Public TV studios and acted out by Idaho Shakespeare Festival actors, with hilarious results.
Here’s why I’m telling you this: Tonight, IDOG and its open meetings and records education efforts will be featured on Idaho Public TV. At 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Pacific), Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and I will appear on live TV with “Dialogue” host Joan Cartan-Hansen for a special hour-long program focusing on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws. We’ll be taking calls from the public (800-973-9800), and the show will offer the first look at the wacky but informative skits. The program will re-air on Sunday afternoon. Tune in and check it out; Dialogue also can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org.