Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yes, a tougher ‘Open Meeting’ law

It's probably safe to assume that the Idaho Legislature is not likely to experience an epiphany and suddenly become a champion of a tougher and more explicit state open meetings law. Some lawmakers already have a built-in bias: They've argued for closed-door committee meetings to conceal their chitchat from the public and reporting by the media.

Therefore, the obvious crusader for a law that everyone understands and can be enforced without reservations is Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who has said the law needs revamping. More than anyone, he can make the convincing case for ensuring that Idaho practices government in the sunshine.

Once elected or appointed to office after promising to represent the public's interests, some officeholders suddenly develop a distaste for conducting public business in public. Closed-door government is where the first seeds of betraying and abusing the public trust are sown. Deals they otherwise wouldn't propose in public are discussed by lawmakers or agency boards and without the purifying oversight of those who would be subject to closed-door agreements.

The attorney general's commendable interest in a tightened open meeting law stems from a December closed-door meeting of the state Board of Education. Board members professed ignorance of the state law, and Wasden decided it would be difficult to prosecute a case because of the existing law's lack of clarity.

Closed-door meetings, except those specifically exempted by law, profit no one. In fact, secrecy in government merely arouses suspicion about the motives of officials involved and about the beneficiaries of their decisions.

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