Open Idaho: Working to promote access

By Joan Cartan-Hansen

Whether you are a journalist, a public official or a private citizen, you have rights and responsibilities under Idaho’s Open Meeting and Public Records laws. Now it is easier to find out what to do if you are denied a document or barred from a public meeting.  Idaho Public Television and Idahoans for Openness in Government have updated their award winning Open Idaho website to reflect recent changes in state statutes.

On the Open Idaho website, you’ll find eight videos that go through the “dos and don’ts” of how the state’s Open Meeting and Public Records laws should be applied. In addition, the Open Idaho website contains detailed resources to help journalists and citizens access government meetings and documents and information to train and support public employees responsible for administering these laws.

Joe Golden and Tom Willmorth, a.k.a. The Fool Squad, star in the videos. As part of the update, the steaming versions of the videos on the website were closed captioned for hearing impaired.

Members of Idahoans for Openness in Government (IDOG) now have an special DVD version of the Open Idaho project that’s available for training sessions, in addition to the live seminars IDOG conducts periodically around the state with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

If you are ever denied a public document or denied access to a public meeting or court proceeding or even if you just have a question about these two statutes, help is available.  Send an email via the Open Idaho website’s “Contact Us” form and someone from the Idaho Press Club or Idahoans for Openness in Government will respond.

Find out more about your rights at the Open Idaho website:

What to do if you are denied a public document?

If you are denied a record, ask to speak to the custodian of the records in question. Ask the custodian to cite the exemption under which you are being denied the document. Be sure to note their answer. Next ask for written denial and request information about the appeals process for the agency holding the document. Follow their procedures. You have the right to formally appeal the denial of your public record in the local district court.  -From the Open Idaho website

What to do if you think Idaho’s Open Meeting Law is being violated:

If a meeting is being closed, ask: ”Under what provision of the Idaho Open Meeting Law do you intend to close this meeting? Has a two-thirds majority voted to close the meeting, and has that vote been recorded in the minutes?”

If you object to the closure, say: “I object to the closure of this meeting, and I note for the record that any action taken in an illegally closed meeting is null and void. Furthermore, each member of the governing body who knowingly participates in an illegally closed meeting can face fines. I also remind the board that even in a valid executive session, no final action or decision can be made. The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires all decisions to be made in public. I ask that my objection be noted in the minutes.”

-From the Open Idaho website

 Joan Cartan-Hansen is a reporter, producer and host at Idaho Public Television, produced the Open Idaho project, and is the treasurer of the Idaho Press Club board.