COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — When Kara Claridge spoke to the City Council on Jan 4, she questioned whether the Coeur d’Alene Public Library board's virtual-only meetings were legal, as reported by our news partner the Coeur d'Alene Press.
“I’m not sure, but I think there's a possibility that’s a violation of open meeting law,” she told the council.
Claridge, since August, had been trying to connect with the board regarding concerns she had about material in the children’s library.
She found the board’s monthly Zoom-only meetings “frustrating” and “inadequate” and requested they resume meeting in person, which they hadn't since pretty much the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think they would have much more citizen involvement,” she said.
Then-Mayor Steve Widmeyer said, “As a city, we go out of our way to follow all open meeting laws."
Councilwoman Kiki Miller, council liaison to the library board, echoed that and said the Zoom meetings “haven’t violated any open meeting laws.”
Turns out, though, they had. For more than a year.
The next day, Jan. 5, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden held an online seminar focused on public records and open meetings.
“The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined our in-person trainings the last two years, so we’re overdue to talk to Idahoans about government transparency,” Wasden said.
Two library trustees attended the virtual meeting and one watched via YouTube later.
Library board members learned then that their Zoom-only meetings weren’t legal and hadn’t been since June 2020.
They had 14 days to resolve the matter.
Board chair Katie Sayler, during a special meeting of the library board Wednesday and speaking virtually to those at the Library Community Room, explained that at least one member of the board had to be physically present at the designated meeting site for such “hybrid” meetings.
“Therefore, we meet today to rectify our error and remain in good standing with the Idaho open meeting law,” Sayler said.
Four people attended the meeting, as well as four police officers.
Trustee Fay Sweney was present for the board, the rest attending virtually.
They approved a motion to declare that 34 action items approved at Zoom meetings from July 29, 2020, to Dec. 1, 2021, were “null and void.”
It then quickly approved another motion to approve those same 34 action items.
The entire meeting took less than 10 minutes.
“We are in complete compliance with law,” Sayler said.
Sweeney spoke afterward with Kara Claridge. She said when the pandemic started, the board began meeting virtually, which was allowed then, for health reasons.
The state suspended such virtual-only meetings for government entities in late June 2020. It was required that at least one voting member of the board be physically present at the meeting site.
“We were not aware of that,” Sweney said, adding she wasn’t sure why the board didn’t receive notification.
Sweney said trustees find Zoom an effective way to meet and carry out their business, mask free, and not worry about COVID-19. The public was welcome to follow along online from home, at the Library Community Room, and was given a chance to comment.
But she said they will follow the law.
“As far as we know, we met all the requirements today,” she said.
Kara Claridge maintained people are becoming aware of issues at the library and want to address trustees in person, as she did.
“There's many important decisions that are being made. That's why I feel like it should be as open as possible to the community,” 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 address the board in the first place.
He said their daughter, to their surprise, in the summer picked up children’s library books about drag queens and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender community).
“There are citizens not OK with content that is just freely available to kids,” JD Claridge said.
He questioned whether Zoom meetings, even with one member physically present, were the best way for the board to hear from the public.
“It does seem there is a letter of intent to not allow the public to have a say in the decisions they are making,” he said.
One audience member suggested they have a large screen so the public could see the board members at the meetings, and the board could see them.
Michael Priest, library director, said they were working on that.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Library Community Room.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.