Last week, the Argus Observer and Independent-Enterprise, along with the Idaho Press Tribune, hosted a workshop on open government. We had a fantastic turnout of about 35 people, including members of the general public, the media and some public officials.
Thank you, Ontario City Council member Charlotte Fugate, for volunteering in a couple of the skits. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Payette City Council member Craig Jensen and Fruitland schools Superintendent Teresa Fabricius (who may have missed her calling as an actress). The media was well-represented, with co-host Vickie Holbrook, managing editor at the Press-Tribune, Cherise Kaechele from the I-E, and my new friends Bonnie Davidson and Sarah Imada from the Weiser Signal-American. It is always a pleasure to see Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review, the doyenne of the Idaho press corps, the president of the Idaho Press Club and board member of Idahoans for Open Government, one of the event sponsors.
I wish every local public official could have attended the workshop. More importantly, I wish every city, school and county attorney could have attended the workshop.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was the lead speaker, and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane did most of the explaining of open meeting and public records laws.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve butted heads with public officials and attorneys who have been flat-out wrong about the public records and open meetings laws. Wasden said that he would estimate that in such disputes between government and the press, the split is about 50-50 in who is right. Of course, I’m always right (just ask my wife), so I would put the ratio at more like 80-20 in the press’ favor.
A couple of the highlights for me:
• When amending an agenda at the beginning of a meeting, the board member making the motion to amend the agenda must include in his or her motion the “good faith” reason that the item wasn’t on the agenda as published. (To the city council and the school board that disagreed with me on this point: I told you so.)
• Draft minutes of a meeting are a public record. In other words, you can’t deny release of draft minutes simply because “the city council hasn’t approved them yet.”
My favorite take-home message, though, came from Brian Kane. And I have to say, in my many dealings with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office over the past six years, they have always stressed the importance of open government and the importance of the government striving to be honest and forthcoming with the public. Or, as Kane put it, “Government is a customer-service business.”
SCOTT McINTOSH is the editor of the Argus Observer and Independent-Enterprise. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the Argus Observer