Understanding Idaho Open Meeting Laws
by Shari Dovale
There has been much confusion for the public concerning open meeting laws in Idaho, and around the country. Most people understand basic open meeting laws, however, not every meeting is exactly like the next. How do you know if the meeting is in compliance for the public? How do you know if the governing body is being transparent?
Transparency is a way of protecting the citizens and ensuring fairness. If officials want citizens to trust them, they have to be open about what they are doing. People want to know how their money is being spent and why.
Other questions commonly asked include:
What constitutes a meeting under the Open Meeting Law?
- Who is subject to Open Meeting Laws?
Can I call a commissioner or board member individually about a pending matter?
- Are there any rules on where a public meeting may be held?
What types of meetings may be closed under the Open Meeting Law? (Executive Session)
Who enforces the Open Meeting Law?
- Are members of the governing body criminally liable for violations in which they knowingly participate?
Where can you, the citizen, get answers?
There are many resources online. We will highlight a few here for you. While most of this information is geared towards the State of Idaho, many apply to all states and governing bodies. Check with your State Attorney General for clarification in your area.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office has published a manual for everyone to help alleviate the confusion. In some cases, however, it can add to the confusion, as is noticed by litigation efforts around the state.
You can read the entire manual here: Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual, JULY 2018
Idaho Public Television has a paper answering questions on Open Meeting Laws in Idaho. You can see it here: Frequently Asked Questions about Open Meetings
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published some fine work on the subject. Here is their take on Nongovernmental bodies receiving public funds or benefits:
The question of whether nongovernmental bodies that receive public funds or benefits are subject to the provisions of the Idaho Open Meeting Law has not been addressed by any appellate court in Idaho.
The application of the Open Meeting Law to such bodies probably turns upon whether the body was created by some public act (such as a statute, ordinance or other legislative act), rather than upon whether governmental officials who might otherwise be subject to the act are included in its membership or upon whether public funds are received by the body.
Hence, a meeting of State Department of Health and Welfare officials that results in state grant monies being provided to a privately operated shelter home would probably be subject to the Open Meeting Law.
However, a meeting of the board of the privately run shelter home (even if the board included one or more of those same officials which had helped make the decision to send public grant monies to the shelter home) would probably not be subject to the law since the shelter home does not exist or was not created by the virtue of any statute, ordinance or other public act.
Idaho Counties Risk Management Program (ICRMP) has put together a well done document explaining and answering the most common questions concerning Executive Sessions.
Here you will find answers to questions including:
What are common reasons to go into Executive Session?
• Idaho Code 74-206(1)
• Personnel selection and evaluation – Idaho Code 74-206(1)(a) and (b)
• Acquire interest in real property – Idaho Code 74-206(1)(c)
• Consider records exempt from disclosure – Idaho Code 74-206(1)(d)
• Discuss litigation – with your attorney – Idaho Code 74-206(1)(f)
• Consider claims or potential claims – with your risk manager or insurer – Idaho Code 74-206(1)(i)
Open Meeting Law Manual – Common Reasons to go Into Executive Session
What can be discussed in executive session?
Only subjects identified within the motion to enter the executive session and outlined in the specific subsections of Idaho Code 74-206 authorizing the executive session can be discussed in executive session.
Idaho Code 74-206
What topics cannot be discussed in Executive Session?
It’s a violation to change the subject within the executive session to one not identified within the motion to enter the executive session or to any topic for which an executive session is not provided. No executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision.
Caution: don’t stray from the subject while in executive session.
Idaho Code 74-206(2)
Open Meeting Law Manual – Topics
You can read the entire paper here:
If one is trying to have a complete understanding of open meeting laws, you might first read the Brown Act, as it seems to be a standard for the laws set down in our state, as well as many others.
The First Amendment Coalition has done an extensive study on the Brown Act and answers questions here: Brown Act Primer
But the rule of thumb for everyone when considering whether to provide public access to meetings is always:
“When in doubt, open the meeting.”
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