Crowd at McCall seminar studies open records, meetings

McCALL, Idaho – More than 60 people gathered for the IDOG open meetings and public records seminar in McCall on May 19, 2010, the 22nd such seminar held around Idaho since 2004.

Those attending ranged from newspaper reporters and editors to city, county, and district elected and appointed officials, staffers for hospitals and fire districts, school officials, emergency responders, clerks, lawyers, political candidates and interested citizens. Leading the seminar were Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane; and IDOG President Betsy Russell.

Hot topics included “serial” meetings – when public board or commission members contact each other serially to deliberate on an issue rather than gather together, in an effort to evade the Idaho Open Meeting Law – which are violations of the law. Other hot topics: The public’s ability to tape a meeting, which case law says can’t be prohibited if the taping – audio or video – isn’t disruptive of the conduct of the meeting; the fact that email is a public record; and procedures for conducting meetings and responding to public records requests in compliance with the law.

In evaluations of the session, participants gave high marks to interactive skits that cast members of the audience in roles other than their usual ones – a reporter playing a recalcitrant city records clerk, for example, and a public official playing a zealous reporter – while adding a bit of comedy to help bring understanding of the very serious topics covered in the three-hour seminar.

A Planning & Zoning commission chairman who attended the session wrote that among the items learned that could be put into effect immediately were the definition of a serial meeting, and that emails are public records. An elected official wrote of learning “how better to handle our city meetings.” Wrote a citizen who attended, “Thanks for all the booklets!”

All participants were provided with the latest copies of the Attorney General’s open meetings and public records manuals, as well as other manuals on such topics as government ethics.

Everyone filling out evaluations said they’d recommend the seminars, and all said they learned something they could put to use. Receiving rave reviews: The refreshments. The sponsors, McCall Memorial Hospital and The Star-News, provided an array of tempting and creative snacks and sweets.

The seminar was held at the downstairs meeting room of Idaho First Bank in downtown McCall, with a half-hour reception – and a chance to enjoy the outstanding refreshments – preceding the 6 p.m. session.

Not an IDOG member yet?