Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tools to Use: Forcing Local Government Transparency

The first workday in 2008 seems like a good time to remind Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County residents about the resources we have available to encourage our local governments to be more open and honest with us.

The Idaho Attorney General has published several informative pamphlets and manuals for citizens. They are available in hard copy from the Attorney General's office and online at the Idaho Attorney General's webpage. The pamphlets and manuals are written in easily understood language for us interested citizens. They cover topics such as the Idaho Ethics in Government Law, the Idaho Public Records Law, and the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

Next time you're in contact with an Idaho legislator, ask why our public officials are not uniformly provided with copies of those pamphlets and manuals when they assume their elected or appointed position. Ask why those officials are not required to sign a public record statement affirming they have read, understood, and will comply with the laws described in those manuals. This simple requirement would go a long way toward challenging an official's defense that s/he didn't "knowingly" violate the law. And it seems only fair that our elected and appointed officials be required to be as conversant with applicable laws as the citizenry can be.

The Idaho Attorney General is not the only source of information about government transparency. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published online its Open Government Guide, a "...compendium of information on every state's open records and open meetings laws."

The Open Government Guide: Idaho was written by Debora K. Kristensen, an attorney with Givens Pursley, LLP. It elaborates on some of the topics raised in the Attorney General's manuals and pamphlets, but it is no less readable.

These publications are tools, nothing more. They are totally useless unless citizens use them. How will you know if you're using them effectively? One way is that officials will begin to criticize you for even using them. You are likely to be accused of abusing them. One city councilman here in Coeur d'Alene commented about citizens who he believed were abusing the public records and open meeting laws. When asked to define abuse, he could not.

This is not to suggest that public records and open meeting law complaints should be used to harrass officials and agencies. They should not. They should be used to legitimately gather information about the conduct of the public's business and to hold public officials accountable to we, the people.


Anonymous stebbijo said...

You are so right. Our public officials should sign a document thaat they have been given the information that way ignorance is not bliss in thier book - on a local level. Ignorance does not work with the IRS - why should it work for city/county/or state politicians?

11:21 AM, January 04, 2008  

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