Some of the public officials who would have benefited most from Tuesday's workshop on Idaho open meeting and public records laws were conspicuously absent. But today we won't dwell on that.
In the crowd of more than 90 folks who did attend, many layers of local government were well represented. Our county prosecutor, Barry McHugh, was there. So was Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee. Hazel Bauman, head of Coeur d'Alene School District, was there. So was Sid Armstrong, director of business services for the Post Falls School District. The list included a great mix of local officials and concerned citizens - just what Attorney General Lawrence Wasden hoped for.
Not only was the three-hour event extremely informative, but it was fun, too. Under the leadership of Betsy Russell, a reporter for the Spokesman-Review who also serves as president of Idahoans for Openness in Government, the program features interactive skits involving audience members. Tuesday marked the program's 21st appearance around the state. Russell and Wasden have headed up every single one.
Most of the information presented at the workshop is available online at http://www.ag.idaho.gov/publications/manuals.html. But if there was one key point to take away from the entire event, we think it would be this one, from Attorney General Wasden and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane: Public officials will actually be helping themselves and their offices, not just the public they serve, by posting their public records promptly online and conducting as much of their business as possible in the open.
We learned that a recent change in state law guarantees any citizen free access to public records that require up to two hours of staff time to present, or 100 free pages to photocopy. After that 100-copy level, Kane suggested 5 cents per additional copy would probably be a reasonable amount to charge. But why bother? As Wasden and Kane recommend, posting public records promptly online essentially gets officials out of the business of handling increasing loads of public record requests and allows them to focus on their actual jobs.
Kane was quite emphatic in saying that 99 percent of the public officials he works with want to comply with the law and operate as transparently as possible. Unfortunately, we have not found that to be the case. That's why the Russell-Wasden workshop is so important. The more public officials and citizens learn about the law, the more seamlessly important information can be shared.