Library board members were told their Zoom-only meetings were not legal and hadn’t been since June 2020. They had 14 days to resolve the issue.
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — When Kara Claridge addressed City Council Jan. 4, she questioned whether virtual-only meetings of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library Board were legal, as the reported our press partner the Coeur d’Alene Press.
“I’m not sure, but I think there’s a possibility that it’s a breach of the Open Meetings Act,” she told the council.
Claridge, since August, had been trying to communicate with the board about concerns she had about materials in the children’s library.
She found monthly Zoom-only board meetings ‘frustrating’ and ‘inadequate’ and asked that they resume in-person meetings, which they hadn’t done since roughly the start of the coronavirus pandemic. .
“I think they would have a lot more citizen involvement,” she said.
Then-Mayor Steve Widmeyer said, “As a city, we strive to comply with all open meeting laws.”
Councilwoman Kiki Miller, council liaison to the library board, echoed this and said the Zoom meetings “did not violate any open meeting laws.”
It turns out, however, that they had. For more than a year.
The following day, January 5, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden hosted a webinar focusing on public records and public meetings.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined our in-person trainings for the past two years, so we’re late to talking to Idahoans about government transparency,” Wasden said.
Two library administrators attended the virtual meeting and one watched via YouTube later.
Library board members then learned that their Zoom-only meetings were not legal and had not been since June 2020.
They had 14 days to resolve the issue.
Board chair Katie Sayler, speaking at a special library board meeting on Wednesday and virtually addressing those in the library’s community room, explained that at least one board member must be physically present on the designated meeting site for such “hybrid” meetings. .
“Therefore, we meet today to rectify our error and remain in good standing with Idaho’s open meeting law,” Sayler said.
Four people attended the meeting, as well as four police officers.
Administrator Fay Sweney was present for the board, with the others attending virtually.
They approved a motion to declare 34 actions approved in Zoom meetings from July 29, 2020 through December 1, 2021 to be “null and void.”
He then quickly approved another motion to approve those same 34 action points.
The whole meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.
“We are in full compliance with the law,” Sayler said.
Sweeney then spoke with Kara Claridge. She said when the pandemic started, the board started meeting virtually, which was then allowed, for health reasons.
The state suspended these virtual-only meetings for government entities in late June 2020. It was required that at least one voting board member be physically present at the meeting site.
“We weren’t aware of that,” Sweney said, adding that she didn’t know why the council hadn’t received notification.
Sweney said administrators find Zoom an effective way to meet and conduct business, mask-free and without worrying about COVID-19. The public was invited to follow online from home, in the community room of the library, and had the opportunity to comment.
But she said they would follow the law.
“As far as we know, we met all the requirements today,” she said.
Kara Claridge argued that people are becoming aware of problems at the library and want to address the administrators in person, as she did.
“There are a lot of important decisions being made. That’s why I feel it should be as open to the community as possible,” she said.
JD Claridge, who is married to Kara and also ran for Coeur d’Alene City Council in November against Woody McEvers but lost, also attended the meeting.
He said his main concern remained “questionable content” in the children’s library, which is why they wanted to approach the council in the first place.
He said their daughter, to their surprise, picked up some children’s library books about drag queens and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community) this summer.
“There are citizens who disagree with content that is simply freely available to children,” said JD Claridge.
He wondered if Zoom meetings, even with a member physically present, were the best way for the board to hear from the public.
“There seems to be a letter of intent to not allow the public to have a say in the decisions they make,” he said.
An audience member suggested having a big screen so the public can see board members at meetings and the board can see them.
Michael Priest, director of the library, said they were working on it.
The next council meeting is scheduled for January 26 at 4:00 p.m. in the community room of the library.
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