AG spreads message of participation

From the Bonner County Daily Bee

SANDPOINT — Attorney General Lawrence Wasden knows that citizen participation is an essential ingredient for democratic government.

That’s why he’s on the road educating Idaho city officials and residents alike about state law regarding the rules of open government and the specific cases where secrecy is permitted. Wasden, along with Idahoans for Openness in Government President Betsy Russell and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, visited Sandpoint Monday to kick off a week of seminars on the subject.

“I hope that the people who attend these meetings walk out the door knowing more than when they walked in the door,” Wasden said.

According to event organizers, the Sandpoint seminar was remarkably successful. More than 40 people showed up for the two-and-a-half hour event, including county commissioners Lewis Rich and Mike Nielsen and Sandpoint mayor-elect Marsha Ogilvie.

Wasden said that clarification on open meeting and public records law is more necessary than ever. Based on the open government cases his office has examined, the split between the individual seeking information and the government office being in error is close to an even split. The fact that both sides are wrong half the time indicates to Wasden that education on open government needs improvement.

“.500 might be a good batting average in baseball, but we need to do better,” he said.

The seminar covered the protocols of executive session, planning and announcing meetings, the cases where government is allowed to keep information classified and the types of documents and communications that qualify as public record. The latter in particular proved enlightening — any written form of communication used to conduct public business, even e-mails and texts, are subject to public records requests.

Kane said that the easiest way to ensure openness in government is to make that an office goal from the beginning. Rather than abusing executive session privileges and searching for legal loopholes, an active effort to keep  the public informed can go a long way.

“If you approach the law looking for ways to get around it, you’ve already violated it,” Kane said.

From the Bonner County Daily Bee

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