Workshop focuses on open meetings, public records

Photo from Coeur d'Alene SeminarIDOG touring state to help people access government information, understand laws

From the Spokesman-Review

Erica Curless, Staff writer

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COEUR d’ALENE – Open meetings and records make a healthy government, Idaho’s attorney general said Tuesday during a workshop to help the public, media and government officials understand the state’s laws about accessing government information.

“I believe an informed electorate is best able to make proper choices,” Lawrence Wasden told the 90 participants at the Coeur d’Alene workshop aimed at helping people understand the basic rules of Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws. The seminar highlighted the few reasons a government body, such as a city council or county commission, can have a closed-door meeting and the procedure for asking for government documents.

Wasden and members of the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government, a group known as IDOG, began touring the state last fall to host open-government seminars to promote open government and freedom of information.

The group will stop in Sandpoint today for a 1 p.m. workshop at the East Bonner County Library.

The focus isn’t for people to argue the good versus the bad of Idaho’s laws, but instead an opportunity to improve communication between the governments that are the custodians of documents and the people who want the information, which is the general public and the media, Wasden said.

“We are solving problems at the grass-roots level,” said Dean Miller, the group’s vice president and the editor of The Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls. “We all need to understand the basic rules.”

There are times when government officials try to wrongly withhold information from the public and people need to know their rights and get the courts involved, Miller said. It’s not just the responsibility of the media.

“If citizens start challenging these cases as they come up, it will really put muscle behind the teeth (of the law),” Miller said.

Phillip Thompson, a Hayden private investigator, told of how the Benewah Sheriff’s Department refused to give him information unless he revealed who he was investigating and why ? a violation of the state’s public records law.

Another resident asked Wasden’s office to do something about local governments stonewalling regular citizens who request information.

Deputy Attorney General Bill von Tagen said those are the types of issues people should bring up with their state lawmakers because it’s the Idaho Legislature that makes the laws about access to public records.

Wasden is scrambling to make the Sandpoint seminar because he had to return to Nampa for President Bush’s speech. If he is unable to get a flight back to North Idaho, von Tagen will preside over the workshop.

“I’m trying very diligently,” Wasden said. “But it’s a rare opportunity to be with the president in Idaho.”

To access manuals on Idaho’s open meeting, public records and ethics in government laws, go to the Idaho Attorney General Web site:

From the Spokesman Review

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