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Posts tagged: IDOG

Open government group objects to closed Twin Falls meetings

Idahoans for Openness in Government filed a complaint against the city of Twin Falls Tuesday, asking county Prosecutor Grant Loebs to look into the City Council’s practice of delegating city business to subcommittees that meet secretly, flouting the Idaho Open Meeting Law. The council voted 4-2 on Nov. 12 to continue the practice, after the mayor said the city would have to hire another city employee to take minutes for the 14 subcommittees.

The Twin Falls Times-News has an article here on the complaint and dispute; Loebs told the newspaper he’ll investigate. “I’ll take it seriously,” he said. Full disclosure here: I filed the complaint as the president of IDOG, which last month held a seminar on Idaho's open meeting and public records law in Twin Falls that was attended by more than 100 people. The Idaho Open Meeting Law applies to subagencies of governing bodies if they have “the authority to make decisions or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter.”

Mayor Greg Lanting said in an email Tuesday that the city now plans to open many, though not all, of its subcommittees; Loebs said he hopes to have more information about what the city’s been doing by the first week of December.

Looking at what’s a public record, what’s open, what’s not under Idaho law…

I’ll be hitting the road next week for four IDOG open government seminars in the Wood River Valley, the Magic Valley and Eastern Idaho, designed to educate local government officials, reporters and the public on what is covered – and what is not – by Idaho’s two key open government laws, the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Law. These workshops, led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and coordinated by IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government (of which I’m president and a co-founder), have been held in locations across the state since 2004; most recently, three were held last winter in the Treasure Valley, and next year, more are planned for North Idaho.

If you’re anywhere near Hailey (Monday evening), Twin Falls (Tuesday evening), Fort Hall (Wednesday evening) or Rexburg (Thursday evening) next week, please consider attending! All the sessions will start at 6 p.m. These sessions are recommended by the Office of the Attorney General, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho Press Club. They are free and include refreshments; because space is limited, attendees are asked to RSVP; you can see all the details here.

Learning about open meetings, records

There was an excellent turnout last night in Payette, where more than 35 folks filled the historic Portia Club to learn about Idaho's open meetings and public records laws at the latest IDOG seminar - that's Idahoans for Openness in Government. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was the featured speaker, along with Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane and myself as president of IDOG. Those attending ranged from local government officials to interested citizens to news reporters and editors. They participated in interactive skits to learn how to comply - and how not to comply - with the laws, received handouts including the Attorney General's manuals on both laws, and had the opportunity to have all their questions answered after detailed presentations from Kane on how the laws work.

Among the questions from the audience: Is this meeting tonight legal under the Open Meeting Law? The answer: Yes, and it's not a meeting under the law's definitions - which define a meeting as the “convening of a governing body of a public agency to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter.”

More than 60 people attended a similar session in Boise last week; the next one is scheduled for Nampa on Jan. 9th, at 7 p.m. at Nampa City Hall; there's more info here and here.

More than 230 attend open-govt seminars in North Idaho, Boise session mulled for spring

More than 230 people throughout North Idaho attended open government seminars last week sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government, from Sandpoint to Coeur d'Alene to Moscow to Lewiston; each 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; you can read my full Sunday column here about the seminars. IDOG likely will be holding another session this spring in Boise.
  

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

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.
  

Moscow crowd learns about open meetings, public records laws

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.
  

Big crowd, lots of interest at CdA open government seminar

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 legislator 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 … (Rep.) 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.

Sandpoint turns out for open government seminar

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.

Open records, meetings seminars coming to North Idaho next week

Everyone in Idaho should know what is covered - and what's not - by the state's public records and open meetings laws. That's the premise behind a series of educational seminars that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government, or IDOG, have been holding periodically around the state since 2004. Now, the seminars are coming to North Idaho, for the first time since 2005.

Full disclosure here: I'm the president of IDOG, and this long has been an issue close to my heart. We all benefit when everyone, including government officials, members of the news media, and the public, are fully aware of the public's rights to access government information and observe the conduct of the public's business.

IDOG seminars are lively and interactive, and attendees may find themselves playing a part in a skit designed to illustrate a point about one or the other of the laws. They're also free, and include  refreshments. Here's the schedule for the North Idaho seminars:

    * Monday Dec. 5, Sandpoint - 5:30-8 p.m., Sandpoint Library public meeting room, 1407 Cedar Street
.  Co-sponsored by the Bonner Daily Bee
    * Tuesday Dec. 6, Coeur d'Alene - 6-8:30, Spokesman-Review Building 1st floor public meeting room, 608 Northwest Blvd. Co-sponsored by The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d'Alene Press
    * Wednesday Dec. 7, Moscow - 6-8:30 p.m., Moscow City Hall, City Council Chambers. Co-sponsored by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
    * Thursday Dec. 8, Lewiston - 6-8:30, Lewis-Clark State College, Sacajawea Hall Room 115. Co-sponsored by the Lewiston Tribune
    
These sessions are free and open to the public, but as space is limited, those who would like to attend are asked to RSVP by Dec. 2 to bzrussell@gmail.com or toll-free to (866) 336-2854. IDOG has sponsored 19 of these seminars around the state since 2004, from Preston to Moscow, from Pocatello to Coeur d'Alene. Each has been personally led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Attendees get copies of the latest version of Wasden's Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual and Idaho Public Records Law Manual.

IDOG is a broad-based, nonprofit coalition for open government. Like similar coalitions in more than 40 other states, IDOG's mission is to promote open government and freedom of information; its board includes people from inside and outside of government, the media, civic organizations and more. IDOG's seminars are funded in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. There's more information at IDOG's website, www.openidaho.org.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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