A series of seminars on open meetings and public records laws returns to southwest Idaho Monday. The organization Idahoans for Openness in Government puts together the seminars each year in different parts of the state along with the office of the Attorney General. The free public seminars start Monday in McCall then come to Boise and Nampa early next month.
Idaho’s Attorney General and the Idaho Press Club do the presentation. The interactive event lasts about three hours and features audience role playing.
The events are open to anyone but most often attended by members of the media, government employees, elected officials and citizen activists. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says sometimes the people who should know Idaho’s open government laws best, sometimes have some big holes in their understanding.
“I talked with, about three years ago, a reporter that didn’t know even know that the public records act existed,” Wasden says. “And I’ve also had, on the other hand, conversations with local government officials who don’t really understand that, you know, you just can’t go into executive session whenever you feel like it.”
Members of the public, Wasden adds, often don’t know that the laws that give them the right to attend government meetings don’t necessarily mean they can speak at those meetings. He says when everyone involved understands Idaho’s open government laws, there are fewer conflicts his office has to get involved in.
“If we can get the press, and the public and the public officials on the other side, that everyone understands what the law is, we have a lot fewer conflicts about the production of records and access to meetings,” he says.
Wasden has been doing these seminars since 2004. He recalls a few years ago in eastern Idaho a reporter and a school district were at loggerheads over a public records request. He says the reporter and a school board member both attended a seminar.
“We went through the statutes both in public records and open meetings and at the conclusion of that three hour period, I actually saw the reporter talking to the representative from the school district,” Wasden says. “And I thought, ‘Wow. We’ve really accomplished something.’ Because that really was the mechanism that allowed those records to be disclosed, that both of them understood what the rules were.”
Space to these open government seminars is limited so organizers ask those interested in attending to RSVP. Here are the specifics including how to RSVP.
MON. Sept. 21, McCALL – Co-sponsored by the Star-News. Downstairs Community Room, Idaho First Bank, 475 E. Deinhard Lane, 1-4:30 p.m. RSVP to Tom Grote, firstname.lastname@example.org.
MON. Oct. 5 – BOISE – Co-sponsored by the Idaho Statesman. Statesman building, 1200 N. Curtis Road, 6-9:30 p.m. RSVP to Bill Dentzer, email@example.com or 377-6438.
WED. Oct. 7 – NAMPA - Co-sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune and the city of Nampa. Nampa City Hall, Council Chambers, 411 3rd St. South, 6-9:30 p.m. RSVP to Scott McIntosh, firstname.lastname@example.org or 465-8110.
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