One way to serve citizens better

| January 5, 2021 1:00 AM

Many public officials would struggle to pass a test on Idaho's open meeting laws - how to properly notice a meeting, what can and cannot be done in that meeting, what can be discussed in executive session, and much, much more.

Toss in a pandemic that has shifted most meetings to the virtual variety, and the statutory mystery widens even further.

Thankfully, help is on the way, much to all Idahoans' benefit.

Tomorrow from 1-2 p.m., experts are going to shed plenty of light on Idaho's public meeting laws during these bizarre COVID-19 times. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, his right-hand man Brian Kane and reporter Betsy Russell are going to walk public officials, journalists and interested citizens through the best practices of conducting open and honest public meetings - digitally, as the times now require.

The online session is free to anybody but does require simple registration. Go to: https://bit.ly/2MxPBxz

Nobody's suggesting that local public officials are trying to broker illegal or unethical deals behind the backs of an unsuspecting public. Overall, Idaho officials do a pretty good job understanding public record and open meeting laws. But there are gaps that can be particularly challenging when audiences are shown only what's on a screen, rather than witnessing an entire meeting with all the decision makers and members of the public who want to speak up.

Wasden, Kane and Russell are experts in this arena. The trio has conducted 49 open meeting and public records seminars across the state since 2004. Many local public officials have attended these entertaining and enlightening workshops in Coeur d'Alene, which have featured journalists and officials acting in skits that often flip their professional roles, providing insights that might have been missing before.

The Bee strongly encourages all members of public bodies, including city council members, library and school trustees, highway district commissioners, state legislators and others to tune in Thursday at 1 p.m. Public officials and journalists tend to want the same thing: An informed citizenry that is active not just at the polls, but in everyday decision-making.

This one-hour panel discussion will help.