More than 80 people gathered in McCall on Monday for an open meetings/public records seminar led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and put on by Idahoans for Openness in Government; they ranged from city, county and fire district officials to clerks, reporters, citizen watchdogs and more. Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the public officials among the crowd that they can call him with open meeting questions, but noted, “Just know that when you call, our most likely advice is going to be to open it up. … The policy is openness.”
Among the points brought out at the workshop: 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 – the vote must be two-thirds of the board, not two-thirds of those present. They can still conduct business, though, Kane noted – in the open.
The crowd participated in interactive skits to learn about the open meetings and public records laws, with one casting local citizen watchdog Dennis Stewart as “Helpful, the Deputy City Clerk” and an animated Cascade City Councilor Judy Nissula as “Bluster, the Citizen,” who was initially highly suspicious as she contacted the clerk about a public records request. There were laughs, snacks, lots of questions and answers and lots of learning.
The seminar is the first of a series of three that IDOG is holding in the Treasure Valley area this year; the next will be on Oct. 7 at Nampa City Hall, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune and the City of Nampa, and the third Oct. 20 at Boise State Public Radio in Boise, co-sponsored by the radio station and the Idaho Statesman. There’s more info here on the sessions and how to RSVP; they’re free. Similar sessions were conducted last year in Moscow, Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint; next year, they’ll head back to eastern Idaho.
IDOG (full disclosure here: I’m its president) is Idaho’s non-profit coalition for open government; its board members range from retired Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to prominent attorney-lobbyist Skip Smyser to CWI trustee and citizen activist Emily Walton. There’s more info at IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.