Idaho Public Records Act – Tues., Nov. 28, 2023


Idaho Open Meeting Law – Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023

Download Brian Kane’s slide deck:


Campaign Finance & Lobbying – Wed., Sept. 27, 2023

Download Phil McCrane’s PPT on Campaign Finance and Lobbying:


Transparent Idaho/Townhall Idaho, Wed. Aug. 30, 2023

There was some surprise news at the start of this fall’s first IDOG government transparency workshop on Aug. 30: Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane, who was welcoming the audience and introducing the series of four sessions this fall, said, “As of this morning, I have a confession to make.”

“At 9 a.m. today, the State Board of Land Commissioners, of which I am one, just announced a special meeting on Friday at 9 a.m. to cure a mistake in a motion on open meetings. There was a mistake regarding the open meeting law, and so we’re working to cure that.”

McGrane noted that both he and the day’s lead speaker, state Controller Brandon Woolf, serve on the Land Board. Both also are outspoken advocates of government transparency. “So, to kick off IDOG and highlight openness in government … we want to kick it off by making sure we are open and transparent,” he said, “and hopefully encouraging not just state officials but local officials all around the state of Idaho to do the same.” 

As reported by the Idaho Press, the violation occurred during the board’s  Aug. 15 meeting in which board member Attorney General Raúl Labrador made a motion to go into executive session but did not cite the exemption under the Idaho Open Meeting Law that justified the closed-door meeting. The law requires that the code section be included in the motion. The violation was cured at the Sept. 1 special meeting by formally acknowledging the error by unanimous vote of the board, and re-doing the business at issue. 

McGrane noted that the four IDOG sessions this fall, over four months, will cover transparency in finance, issues regarding lobbying and campaign finance, open meeting laws and public records.

Betsy Russell, IDOG president, also welcomed the participants, 80% of whom were participating online via Idaho Public Television’s InSession streaming service. “IDOG’s mission is to foster open government, supervised by an informed and engaged citizenry,” she said. “We believe that we all benefit when the public, the media and government officials are fully aware of the public’s rights to access government information and observe the conduct of the public’s business.”

Russell then introduced Woolf, who is in his third full term as the state’s elected controller. “Brandon started Transparent Idaho in 2012 to provide better access for Idaho citizens to state government financial data, and it has expanded significantly since then,” she said. “He has made government transparency a hallmark of his tenure as state controller.”

Woolf then discussed how public trust in government has been declining nationwide, after hitting a peak in 1964, and how transparency can restore trust, along with other benefits including deterring fraud and increasing accountability.

Woolf shared this quote: “Obscurity is the best friend of conspiracy.” That followed several other quotations shared by McGrane in his introduction, including this quote from Mother Teresa: “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

Woolf led participants through the Transparent Idaho website,; its features; and the extensive, searchable, up-to-date financial data available there, from public employee salaries to expenditures of taxpayer dollars. In addition to state government and agency financial information, along with data from the state’s four-year colleges and universities, the site now is in the process of adding local government and school district data as well.

Woolf also covered Townhall Idaho,, a site he and Gov. Brad Little launched in 2022 to serve as an online one-stop-shop for all public meeting information for state executive branch agencies.

At the close of his presentation, with McGrane and Russell as moderators, Woolf fielded questions from participants, including both those present in person in the Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium and those participating online, who submitted their questions via email. Among the questions were some seeking information that’s not yet available on Transparent Idaho; Woolf pledged to continue increasing the data posted on the site, and said some of the information sought, including community college financial data, isn’t yet on the site but is on his team’s “to-do list.”

Here are some comments from the evaluations completed by participants in the Aug. 30 session:

From a citizen: “Congratulations on a fantastic job! I am very much heartened by the commitment to transparency and the encouragement of citizen engagement. Thank you to all for this fantastic tool and for educating us!”

From a state employee: “There is way more information on Transparent Idaho than I realized.”

From a reporter: “I didn’t know the Transparent Idaho website existed, which as a local reporter will be very useful. I look forward to looking at salaries and natural resource expenditures in each county.”

From a local elected official: “Thanks so much for putting this on! Sorry I couldn’t attend in person like I originally planned, but the online streaming option was SO convenient and worked perfectly.”

From a member of the news media: “There’s more data about local government entities available on the Transparent Idaho website than I realized. I can never get (my local) county officials to comply with requests for salary information. But, it’s on the Transparent Idaho website, so I can now easily find it. I look forward to that being the case for school districts as well.”

From a state employee: “I learned how to navigate the Transparent Idaho site and that some of the requests for information that we receive may be available there.”

From a citizen: “I plan to get more involved in state and local government now that I am retired and I believe some of what is available online as explained in the training will be helpful to me as I do that.”

From a citizen: “I am looking for employment, so knowing salaries of various state employees is helpful.”

From a former reporter and retired PIO: “I learned that Transparent Idaho is good for much more than finding out salaries. I particularly liked the primer on local government data.”

From a citizen: “Thank you for continuing this excellent programming!”

The full video of the Aug. 30 event, along with Woolf’s Powerpoint slides, are available for viewing at IDOG’s website,

IDOG Seminar 2022 [full video]

On January 5, 2022, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government hosted an online seminar to help educate the public on the state’s open meetings and public records laws.

Here is the full video:

Presentation decks and related materials:

Nearly 500 participate in IDOG session on Open Meetings in the Pandemic

Government transparency gets screen time

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Staff Writer | January 8, 2021 1:06 AM

In the days of Zoom, teleconferences, and Youtube, Idaho’s general public has never had more accessibility to government meetings.

Officials like Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government hoped to continue this trend through a free virtual seminar Thursday afternoon.

Nearly 500 government officials and staff, news professionals and citizens participated in the “Open Meetings in the Pandemic: Setting the Record Straight” seminar, hosted by Wasden and IDOG President Betsy Z. Russell. Featuring Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, the three panelists walked listeners through various scenarios and recommendations to navigate these uncertain times.

“No matter what the emergency is that we’re going through, or what the crisis is that we’re addressing, we still want to make sure that the government functions as openly and transparently as it possibly can,” Kane said.

A common issue addressed in the seminar was how entities could hold public meetings while acting under Gov. Brad Little’s gathering limitations and safety guidances. In March, one of the earliest executive orders set by Little was suspending the in-person requirement of open meetings.

While that provision expired in June, it created the issue of how public officials can comply with capacity limitations and legal code, Kane said.

Kane recommended entities conduct meetings online or through telecommunication outlets, have members of the body participate electronically, or provide overflow rooms in addition to the one physical location required under Idaho Code 74-2035.

“Maybe you’re not guaranteed to see the whites of a single board member’s eyes, but at least you know there is a physical location where the meeting is occurring,” Kane said.

With all options, Kane said it is best practice for entities to publish the gathering limitations before the meeting and provide instructions on how to access the forum, remote information, and the agenda.

“The worst possible spot for the government to be in under the pandemic and Open Meeting Law is to surprise the public when they show up to attend a meeting and learn that they can’t attend the way they wanted,” Kane said.

If access to a meeting’s video or audio becomes unavailable, the panel recommended the body to pause the conversation until the problem is resolved. Failing to stop the discussion has become one of the top issues the Attorney General’s Office has seen entities run into, Kane said.

“This is a really big deal, especially for reporters who are covering a meeting,” said Russell, a reporter for the Idaho Press. “That means we don’t have legal access to this meeting anymore, and in compliance with the Open Meeting Law, you have to provide that. I would urge boards and their staff to be cognizant of that.”

On hot-button issues, which have been plentiful during the pandemic, the panel suggested citizens sign up for testimony ahead of time — especially when a large gathering is expected.

Further, government entities should notify the public of meeting limitations, Kane said, like how long they will be allowed to speak, how many people will testify and if masks will be required.

“All of those things you want to have lined out before the meeting. If you try to do it after, it will be chaos and will very likely generate a complaint,” Kane said.

Since the governor’s executive order expired in June, most agencies have continued providing digital access to public meetings, aiding the public’s ability to observe from a safe distance.

“We may not get to get up on the stage or grab the mic, but we have a right to watch it, and that right needs to be preserved, even during the pandemic,” Russell said.

Due to the changes, Russell noted several agencies have built upon their telecommunication outlets, improving practices and bettering public access to information.

“I’d just like to put in a plug for the government to continue to stream all meetings, even after the pandemic,” she said. “While we were all forced into it by circumstances, it has made government more accessible to more people in Idaho, and that’s a good thing.”

Other recommendations made during the meeting:

  • Rotate in-person board members
  • Ensure broadcasting technology — cameras, microphones, recording technology — is working before and during a meeting
  • Preplan remote testimony applications, meeting links, chat functions, host controls, and action strategies for problems that may occur mid-program
  • If there are potential areas of concern, entities should consult their attorney
  • Stream meetings online
  • Post board meeting documents online in advance of the meeting for easy public access
  • Identify speakers during online communications — mainly when visual identification is not an option
  • Have minutes, or a recording, of the gathering available within a reasonable time afterward
  • Have staff available to monitor IT-related issues

Info: Idaho Code, Title 74 ; IDOG

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Hundreds learn about Idaho’s open meetings, public records laws

From the Idaho Press


A ripple of apprehensive laughter spread through the audience, as Nampa school trustee Allison Westfall, playing the role of a fictional city council member, read her line: “This isn’t on the agenda tonight, but since we’re all together, let’s straighten out this budget issue.” Her fellow “council members” leaned in close.

Westfall and her fellow actors, gathered at Nampa City Hall, were showing what NOT to do under the Idaho Open Meeting Law, as part of an open government seminar put on by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government, or IDOG. In this case, it was “executive session drift” — when a public board goes into a closed-door executive session for a legitimate reason, but then “drifts” on to other topics. That violates the law.

In this interactive skit, one of numerous ones presented during the evening, the fictional Watertown City Council was in a closed session to discuss a pending lawsuit, but strayed off into discussions of the city budget, staffing, and the city attorney’s salary.

Wasden, playing the role of a referee, threw a flag. “Holding on the government!” he called out. “I’m throwing a flag for holding — holding an illegal executive session!”

“The Open Meeting Law allows executive sessions, but strictly limits the circumstances under which an executive session is permissible and requires proper notice on the agenda,” Wasden explained to a full house of 80 local and state government officials, reporters, lawyers and interested citizens, once the laughter died down. “An executive session must remain focused on the top of the specific exemption that was noticed and voted upon.”

The Nampa session on Thursday evening was the third held in the area in October by Wasden and IDOG; it was co-hosted by the Idaho Press and KTVB-TV. An earlier session in Boise, co-sponsored by Ada County, Boise State Public Radio, the Idaho Press and the Idaho Statesman, drew 114 people; another in McCall, co-sponsored by The Star-News, drew 73.

That means a total of more than 265 people across the region learned in depth about the requirements of the Idaho open meetings and public records laws, how important they are, and how to comply.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said it was executive session drift that got the Idaho Public Charter School Commission in trouble earlier this year. It also didn’t help that that board was holding a lengthy executive session stretching for two hours, he said. In order to stay on track and limited to the precise topics for which executive sessions are allowed, Kane said, they’re best kept short.

Other topics addressed included that texts are public records — because Idaho is a “content-based state,” that bases the definition of a public record on the record’s content. If it’s transacting public business, it doesn’t matter what form the record takes or on whose device it’s created or sent — it’s public.

Kane also covered the dangers of using the latest “disappearing” or self-destructing message apps for government business. That could potentially violate agency retention policies and create legal issues if litigation ensues, he said, in addition to creating public record and open meeting law issues.

While some people on public boards or commissions say they’d rather not air their “dirty laundry” in public, Kane said there’s no “dirty laundry” exemption under the Idaho Open Meeting Law. “The open meeting law is there because the public needs to see that discussion, they need to see that debate,” he said.

Full disclosure here: I’m the president of IDOG, which is a 501©(3) non-profit coalition for openness in government. IDOG and Wasden have been holding these educational sessions around the state since 2004. They’re funded by grants; there’s more information at IDOG’s website,, including much of the material presented at the seminars.

Here are some of the comments participants in the sessions wrote in their evaluations:

“Outstanding information — clarified many issues,” wrote a member of a local board.

“Eye opening,” wrote a school trustee.

“Presumption of openness,” wrote a reporter, citing that as the top lesson of the session.

“I learned a great deal about open meetings laws, that will be helpful in understanding the work of committees I serve on,” wrote a participant.

An editor wrote that he’d gained a “deeper, more detailed understanding of open meetings and records laws.”

“Pertinent information, very helpful,” wrote an elected official.

“The explanation of new provisions of the law was worth the time,” wrote a public records custodian.

“I have been denied draft minutes … because they weren’t yet approved by the board members. Now I know that’s a violation,” wrote a citizen.

Summing up what they learned, a government employee wrote, “Transparency leads to confidence in government.”

Asked if they’d learned something they can put to use, a participant wrote: “Yes! Everything!”

IDOG open government seminars are on a three-year cycle to reach each region of the state. Next year, they’ll head to eastern Idaho, and the following year, northern Idaho.

Nampa Seminar

Boise Seminar

McCall Seminar

From the Idaho Press

Crowds in Lewiston, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene learn about open meetings, records

By Betsy Z. Russell

This article also appeared in the Idaho Press-Tribune and The Spokesman-Review, June 3, 2019

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden addresses a crowd of more than 60 in Moscow, Idaho on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, about Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws.

The Idaho Open Meeting Law has no “dirty laundry” exception.

That’s right – government board members who say they want to meet behind closed doors to avoid airing their “dirty laundry,” then come back smiling and agreeing in their public meetings are violating the open meeting law.

And believe it or not, the “dirty laundry” excuse and one other – holding a closed executive session to “collect our thoughts” – are the most common reasons the Idaho Attorney General’s office hears for why public boards wrongly think they’re entitled to conduct the public’s business in secret.

And no, there’s also no open meeting law exception for board members to collect their thoughts.

After informing an audience of more than 50 in Lewiston last week that there is no “dirty laundry” exception in Idaho’s law now, Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane joked, “But we’ve got a couple of legislators here tonight…”

At that, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden interjected, “I’m not bringing such legislation, I want you to know.”

And Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, who was in the audience along with Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, quickly added, “Neither are we!”

The Lewiston session was one of three North Idaho open government workshops held last week by Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government, as part of a continuing series of interactive educational presentations around the state that started back in 2004. It will continue next year with sessions in the Treasure Valley.

Full disclosure here: I’m the president and co-founder of the nonprofit IDOG, and I also help lead these sessions. They’re about how to comply with Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws, and are aimed at reporters, government officials, lawyers and citizens alike. They’re also free, thanks to grant funding and generous local co-sponsors for each session.

Last week, more than 100 people gathered at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, more than 50 at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, and more than 60 at the federal building in Moscow for the workshops. There were people from newspaper and radio stations, cities and counties, school districts and fire districts, TV stations, colleges and universities, airport and port districts, online news outlets, state boards and more. There were city attorneys, local and state officials, lawyers, students and just plain interested folks.

Many found themselves assigned parts in skits to act out the right ways – and the wrong ways – to go about following Idaho’s two key open government laws. There were lots of laughs. And by the end of the three-hour-plus sessions, everyone had learned something – including me.

Highlighted at these sessions were new laws passed by the Legislature this year that will take effect July 1, and each of the changes has the effect of requiring more openness under either the public records law or the open meeting law.

One change means that boards or commissions created by executive order of the governor now will fall under the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

Another requires agencies to designate on their agenda all “action items” to be voted on during their meetings, and not to vote on any other items unless an emergency is declared. “Identifying as an action item does not mean you’re required to take action,” Kane noted.

He said lawmakers were reacting to complaints from citizens that from the agendas, they assumed various items at public meetings were informational – but then votes were taken, before any chance for public input. “Things are in the law the way they are because someone did something,” Kane noted.

Though some officials have expressed concerns about the new requirement, Kane said it shouldn’t be hard to comply with, and noted that entities including the state Board of Examiners already routinely separate their agendas into portions for action items and for information only.

“These are new provisions, and so with any new provision there’s going to be a little bit of growing pain, and there’s going to be a learning curve,” Kane said. “They’re not meant to be onerous.”

Another new law passed this year requires agencies to designate a “custodian” of their public records, so citizens know where to submit public records requests, to avoid what Kane called the “custodian shuffle,” where citizens are shuffled from one official to the next in search of who has the records, when what they want is clearly supposed to be publicly available. That designation also includes all delegates for the designated custodian, he said, “everyone underneath him.”

And another legislative change this year makes certain items in personnel files, including bonuses, severance packages, and vouchered or unvouchered expenses for which reimbursement is paid by a public agency, fully disclosable under the public records law. Social security and driver’s license numbers are exempted.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsored that new law and the custodian provision, and was recognized for it at the Coeur d’Alene workshop, where she was among the attendees.

The sessions are light-hearted, but the subject matter is serious: The rights of the people to know what their government is doing. There’s more information online at IDOG’s website,


The People’s Right to Know

From the Coeur d’Alene Press


Staff Writer

COEUR d’ALENE — Government officials, attorneys and journalists went at it for three hours together Wednesday afternoon in Coeur d’Alene.

But in this round of the traditional tug-of-war over public records and open meetings, the players kept their eyes on the prize: The people’s right to know.

They even stepped into each other’s shoes in skits to gain a better understanding of those laws.

About 115 people from throughout North Idaho witnessed and heard how keeping public records in the public eye benefits everyone during an entertaining workshop at The Coeur d’Alene Resort held by the Idaho Office of the Attorney General and the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government.

“Agendas, minutes, budgets, audits should be routinely released and that goes for cities, counties, school and highway districts and mosquito abatement districts,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “If you’re spending money, the public has the right to see what’s going on. It is important that we recognize that the public has a right to see these and that we respond accordingly.”

Forty-five of these sessions have been held statewide since 2004, and this was the fourth time one was held in Coeur d’Alene.

“We believe they’re making a difference, and that’s why we’re doing them,” said Wasden, adding that there are constantly new journalists interested in reviewing public records and new public employees and officials tasked with maintaining them. “Instead of us trying to train government employees and talk to the press, we believe it’s best to put everyone in the same room so everyone is on the same page of music even if we don’t always sing the same tune.”

The workshops typically draw between 40 to 100 attendees, so Wednesday’s turnout was among the best-attended.

“The strong turnout reinforces the idea that the people’s right to know is just as important to many public officials here as it is to journalists,” said Mike Patrick, managing editor for The Press, a co-sponsor of the workshop with The Resort.

“From the Kellogg school superintendent and the Sandpoint city attorney to members of local urban renewal agency boards and highway districts, we’re all after the same thing: Understanding the law so citizens will have the information they need to make good decisions.”

When journalists and public officials often cross paths, trust can be built, but other times conflicts arise and attorneys are sometimes called upon to settle public records disputes. The Press and the Coeur d’Alene School District, for example, disagreed last year whether the outgoing contract the district’s former superintendent received should be revealed. After two refusals, the district agreed it was information that should be shared with the public.

“What I really appreciate about these workshops is the spirit of cooperation they bring out in people who don’t always see eye to eye,” Patrick said. “Instead of being upset about that, the school board’s leader, Casey Morrisroe, was here today participating in one of the skits.”

Wasden estimates the media and governments are both right about half of the time in public records disputes.

“If you’re batting .500 in the majors, you’re doing a great job, but if you’re batting .500 in public records (disputes) that’s not good so we want to increase that batting average,” he said.

Brian Kane, Wasden’s chief deputy, said he sees Idaho’s open meeting law as the “ticket to the show” and the show is government at work.

“You have the ability and right to observe your government in action,” he said. “It is not necessarily your right to participate. I often hear from citizens that boards did not let them speak, but, unless there’s an open forum you don’t have the right to speak.”

Notices of regular meetings must be posted at least five calendar days in advance and agendas 48 hours in advance. A new provision that takes effect July 1 calls for meeting notices and agendas to be posted electronically if the public agency has a website or maintains a presence on social media.

Another new provision requires that meeting agenda items that may be voted on during a board, council or commission meeting must be identified on the agendas as “action items.”

Executive sessions, which are not open to the general public, need to be authorized by at least a two-thirds vote and there must be specific reasons cited for holding them, including, but not limited to, when hiring a public employee, considering the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of a public employee, acquiring property and to communicate with an attorney about pending litigation. Decisions can’t be made in executive sessions.

“I’m a little suspicious about some of the stuff that goes on behind closed doors,” said, Betsy Russell, a newspaper reporter, IDOG co-founder and workshop presenter.

Russell said, when it comes to understanding open meeting and public record laws, “We’re all in this together.”

Failure to comply with the open meeting law can result in a civil penalty of up to $250, up to $1,500 for “knowingly” not complying and up to $2,500 for subsequent violations within a year.

Kane said the hardest part of not complying with the law is to admit a mistake was made. If an admission is not made, a complaint may be filed in district court and the matter could then escalate into a story in the newspaper.

“We don’t expect you to be perfect, but we expect you to comply,” he said.

Kane shared a tale of two boards that had violated the open meeting law. In one case, a confession was made and another meeting was held to rectify the mistake. That matter drew a short blurb in the newspaper.

Another case, in which the governing board erred in following the law but would not admit it, resulted in a court complaint being filed against the board. The filing prompted a front-page story, and another story when the district judge declared the board had violated the law, and yet another story when it was appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Then, there was a story about how much taxpayer money was spent by the board fruitlessly defending its position.

“Sometimes the learning curve is steep,” Kane said.

Kane equated the public record law as the public’s fishing license.

“It’s your license to find what you’re looking for — and maybe not find what you’re looking for,” he said.

The state defines a public record as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct or administration of the public’s business.”

Public records requests must be granted or denied within three working days, according to Idaho law.

Kane encouraged public employees to keep in mind they are working in the customer service business, so responding before the three days, if possible, is common courtesy.

“If I get a request, my goal is to get that off my desk as fast as humanly possible,” he said. “If I don’t, there’s a chance it could get buried.”

If a public record is not released, the sole remedy is to go to court.

“I understand that’s a hurdle, and maybe the Legislature will consider a non-judicial remedy,” Kane said.

There are more than 100 exemptions under Idaho’s public records law, including personnel records, trade secrets, emergency response plans and library records.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office publishes manuals with the state’s open meeting and public records laws. They can be found online under “Office Publications” at

From the Coeur d’Alene Press