Sunday, October 01, 2023

EDITORIAL: Citizens win in Press court victory over NIC

| September 10, 2023 1:00 AM

Recent court victories for The Press over North Idaho College go beyond the newsroom and newspaper leadership.

We hope they're victories for you, too.

In ordering the college to disclose public information that NIC officials had refused to provide the newspaper, Judge John T. Mitchell was essentially ordering disclosure of public information to every citizen who’s interested in that information.

The newspaper had followed proper procedure in requesting NIC records covering the contracts of some personnel, as well as billing information from the college’s contracted attorney, Art Macomber and former attorney Marc Lyons.

In a time of unprecedented upheaval at the college because of the actions of NIC’s trustee majority, including some highly questionable personnel decisions that often didn’t pass the basic smell test, Press journalists were trying to track who was being compensated how much for whatever duties those people performed. That’s clearly outlined in Idaho statutes as information the public is entitled to, because the public is on the hook for much of that personnel compensation.

But NIC's Laura Rumpler balked, refusing to give the newspaper the contracts it had requested. One of the contracts being sought was Rumpler's, who recently resigned and is at the heart of yet another personnel controversy on campus.

Attorney invoices provided to The Press were so heavily redacted they raised more questions than they answered.

The Press had two options: Look the other way, or sue.

Filing a lawsuit against a public institution is, in a way, a losing proposition, because even if you win, those responsible for the infraction aren’t actually held to account. The institution pays for their legal defense, which generally means taxpayers and other innocent parties end up footing the bill.

Reluctantly, Press leaders chose to sue, not only for the specific records the newspaper lawfully requested, but because individuals in the community let the newsroom know they, too, were having difficulties with public records requests to NIC.

Further, unchallenged obstinance on behalf of the offenders in this instance could encourage other government entities to hide important information from the public. In fact, on Thursday, Judge Mitchell awarded The Press its attorney fees on the employee contract requests because NIC's Rumpler acted "frivolously" in denying the requests.

And finally, win or lose, Press leaders believed that a lawsuit would at the very least shine some light on what is and what isn’t a public record.

The win is significant, but public record and open meeting violations continue to be committed throughout the state. Moving forward, public officials and regular citizens alike can increase their understanding of public record and open meeting laws.

Attorney Brian Kane and reporter Betsy Russell will live-stream workshops later this fall. Brian and Betsy are old hands at this, having toured the state numerous times over the years and increased understanding — and sometimes, cooperation — wherever they’ve gone.

The workshops are on Oct. 25 and Nov. 28 at 9 a.m., and you can register now at: or contact the State Controller’s Office at 208-334-3100, Option 0.

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