Lots of lessons learned about open meetings, records at Nampa IDOG seminar

NAMPA, Idaho – It was a cold winter night in Nampa, but more than 75 people filled the Nampa City Hall Council Chambers for an open meeting/public records workshop Jan. 9 led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, along with Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell.
Attendees ranged from citizens to elected officials, local district secretaries to newspaper reporters, and representatives of the cities of Nampa, Caldwell and Eagle, fire and irrigation districts, school districts, libraries, health districts, the Greater Middleton Parks & Rec Department, the Western Canyon Chronicle, the Messenger Index and more. The Idahoans for Openness in Government seminar was co-sponsored by the Idaho Press-Tribune.

“I learned how to request public records, which will help in my reporting,” wrote a reporter for a small newspaper in her evaluation of the session, adding that she learned, “Tons! This will make doing my job much easier.”

An elected official from a fire district called the session “extremely helpful and totally worth the time to help understand the laws.” Among things he learned that he’ll be able to put to use: “Open meeting laws, executive session rules, and documenting.”

A school board member reported learning, “Subcommittees are supposed to be OPEN,” and noted that is something that will be put to use in the school district.

Another reporter wrote of learning a surprise: “Attorney General Wasden has a sense of humor!” adding that the reporter came away “understanding open meeting laws much better.”

An elected official took away this lesson: “As a government-employed individual, remember everything is public.”

Wrote a citizen: “Every citizen should attend.”

The Nampa session was the 26th IDOG seminar held around the state since they started in 2004; it and the preceding sessions in December in Boise and Payette marked the first time the sessions have returned to the Treasure Valley since 2007.

Just in time for the Nampa seminar and hot off the press were newly updated copies of IDOG’s DVD, “Open Idaho: A User’s Guide to Idaho’s Open Meeting and Public Records Laws.” The DVD, which 35 of the evening’s attendees took home, contains much of the information presented at the seminars; it also includes a version of the interactive skits that audience members helped present at the seminar, presented this time with great flair by actors from the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

The full content of the “User’s Guide” DVD – plus additional features – is available on IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.

The Nampa seminar went late into the evening, due to its 7 p.m. start time. There were lots and lots of questions, but it was all wrapped up by 10 p.m. The later start time for this session was due to legislative activities in Boise the presenters were involved in that day; Kane, for example, was training Idaho’s entire state Legislature on ethics laws for much of the afternoon.

Fortunately for all, a big snowstorm that snarled traffic and made travel conditions hazardous the next morning didn’t hit until long after midnight – well after all session attendees were safe at home.

IDOG’s seminars are funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The three Treasure Valley sessions in December and January drew a total of nearly 200 people.

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