The Office of Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter routinely sends out emails on Fridays to advise the media about upcoming events. I’ve been to many of these occasions in my two and a half years as an Idaho journalist. On Jan. 29, that changed. I was denied entry for the first time.
On that day, Gov. Otter spoke before the Idaho Community Bankers Association’s Management and Directors Leadership Conference at the Grove Hotel in Boise. Conference rooms are on the second floor accessible by stairs next to a shoe shine stand, or by an elevator that dumps you off into a confusing hallway of nondescript doors.
Once safely on the second floor, outside the hotel’s “Evergreen” room, I checked in with a gatekeeper. I told her my name, who I worked for, and that I’d like to sit in on the governor’s speech. I made that clear because I didn’t want them to think I was trying to get a free lunch from the buffet table that looked laden with heavy, cheesy pasta and green salad.
She said I shouldn’t go in yet as a presentation was about to wrap up. While I waited, I perused a few booths set up by local businesses who wanted to market their services to conference-goers. An architect and engineering firm had glossy brochures fanned out on a table. A security firm touted its “all-in-one” solutions for alarms. A basket filled with business cards offered an opportunity to win a prize or, at the very least, a phone call from a sales rep.
As the time for the speech approached, a few conference goers made their escape to the restroom or to check in with the office by smartphone. I waited patiently until the gatekeeper came out to talk to me. When she did, I was puzzled.
I planned to sit in, write notes and report on Gov. Otter’s speech and listen to comments by Idaho Director of Finance Gavin Gee. But she said they decided that the speech would be closed to reporters.
I called Jon Hanian, Gov. Otter’s spokesman, immediately after their decision. Hanian said the governor’s office could not control who they allowed in as it was a private event. He said it was an oversight that they placed the speech on Otter’s official media advisory schedule.
That left me to wonder what could the Idaho Community Bankers be trying to hide? Hanian didn’t think Gov. Otter had anything “private” to say to the bankers. And the schedule of events for the two-day conference didn’t hint at any secret revelations of community finance. Instead, there were sessions on such things as “Municipal Financing” and an “FDIC Examiner’s Perspective.”
I did a story about community banks in December that talked about their relative strength in rural areas compared with those in larger cities. All the bankers I spoke to were very polite and helpful. They tended to say that they know their customers and have built up relationships and trust in their respective communities. Denying a reporter access to an event with a public official doesn’t seem like something these bankers would do, but I was proven wrong by their trade association.