Trio of takeaways from workshop

Editorial from the Coeur d’Alene Press

Three things became clear in a hurry Wednesday night at the Coeur d’Alene Inn.

One, Lawrence Wasden, Idaho’s outstanding attorney general, missed his true calling. He should be in the movies.

Two, a pack of journalists playing various roles as public servants in skits are right where they should be: In dimly lit, heavily insulated newsrooms. Hollywood will survive without them.

And three, the citizens of Idaho will be the big beneficiaries as our state makes slow but steady progress in the realm of public record and open meeting laws.

Did you know that you have a right to much of the recorded business of public entities, who have a specified amount of time to provide you that information or explain why they won’t? And did you know that those public entities by law can’t charge you anything for their first two hours of work to get those documents, nor is there a charge for the first 100 pages of copying those documents? You’re not alone. Some local public officials apparently aren’t aware of those rules, either.

But that was part of the point of Wednesday’s workshop, which drew 80-plus people – roughly twice the size of the second biggest crowd statewide as Wasden & Co. have taken this important show on the road. When nearly four hours of skits and point-by-point explanations and Q&A sessions had concluded, understanding of these sometimes complex laws had increased significantly.

One benefit that bodes well for the public is perhaps a new or renewed spirit of cooperation.

Case in point: On Thursday, mere hours after the workshop had ended, a Press reporter working on today’s front-page story was attempting to set up an interview. He was a bit vague in his request for the meeting. The public official seemed to be skeptical; was this a newspaper attempt at a “gotcha?” Increasingly, the reporter appeared to grow suspicious; what’s the public official hiding? Their correspondence was taking place via email – a frequent culprit in miscommunication.

Eventually, the reporter called the public official, was clear and detailed in what he was seeking. The public official, in turn, then went beyond what the reporter expected, trying to ensure all relevant information would be available to the public. And today you see the result of not just their work, but their cooperation.

Judging by the strong showing of public officials who attended the workshop and, sadly, those who did not, there’s both reason for optimism and concern. Government operates most effectively and responsibly when its actions are transparent to citizens. We’re in pretty good shape on that front in Idaho. However, there’s certainly room to grow.

Editorial from the Coeur d’Alene Press

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