Eighty people filled a meeting room at the Coeur d’Alene Inn last night to learn about Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws, from county commissioners to newspaper reporters, school trustees to city clerks, state lawmakers to interested citizens. “The open meeting law is your ticket to the show,” Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane told the crowd. “Anybody who has ever gone to a meeting and seen a vote without any discussion – that’s not a good sign.” Coeur d’Alene retiree Frank Orzell, with a big grin, responded from the audience with a double thumbs-up.
Kane said members of a board from eastern Idaho once bragged to him that they had the shortest meetings in the state. “To me, that’s a sign that there’s something wrong,” he said. “The open meeting law wants you to have those deliberations. Don’t take that away from the public, when they’ve got their ticket to the show.”
The public records law, meanwhile, is the public’s “fishing license,” Kane explained. People have a right to access information about their government, regardless of why they want it – even if they’re just fishing around for something. Holding up the light-blue Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual and the bright-red Idaho Public Records Law manual – every attendee received copies of both – Kane said, “If this is your ticket to the show, this is your government fishing license.”
The session was put on by Idahoans for Openness in Government, and is part of a series in North Idaho this week, which wraps up with another workshop this afternoon in Sandpoint. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was the lead presenter at all the sessions, which are free and open to the public. “These statutes are especially important,” Wasden told the Coeur d’Alene crowd, “because they really are at the heart of what we are as an American people. It is important that you understand the rules by which you access information and watch government.”
The session featured humorous interactive skits, with audience members playing the roles, to demonstrate how the open meeting law and public records law are supposed to work – or in some cases, how they’re not. In the skit pictured above, Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon is portraying “Crusty, the reporter,” complaining about a closed meeting of a fictional City Council; soothing Crusty’s concerns is “Trusty, the city clerk,” played by Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Keith Cousins. Among those taking on roles on Wednesday night were former state Rep. Gary Ingram, the original author of Idaho’s open meeting law when he served in the Legislature in the 1970s; Ingram also was honored during the session.
The Coeur d’Alene session was co-sponsored by the Coeur d’Alene Press and The Spokesman-Review. Welcoming the crowd, Press managing editor Mike Patrick said if the two competing newspapers can work together to promote better knowledge of the state’s open government laws, everyone can.