Iowa Public Information Board

by Jennifer L. Crull

As Iowans we like to believe that we are open and honest for the most part, but our state government has been a little lacking concerning this area, which has caused problems down to the city and county level of government. We are hopeful that the legislation passed in 2012 and amended in 2013, which established the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), will work to change this feeling about governments at all levels in the state.[1]

State Integrity Investigation is a “collaborative project of the Center for Policy Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.”[2] As Stephen J. Berry noted in his article, “Iowa public officials have created a government that keeps a sizable portion of its operations shut off from public scrutiny, according to a comprehensive study of government openness and susceptibility to corruption by a team of 13 journalists working for IowaWatch.org, the news website of The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, and The Gazette.”[3] Overall the state received a C+ with a score of 78.[4]

Table One shows the report card that Iowa received. There are 14 different areas, and as you can see, there are several areas that are strengths for Iowa and others that are weaknesses. Even with a score of C+, Iowa is ranked seventh out of all fifty states. The six states ranking better than Iowa are New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California, Nebraska, and Mississippi.[5] Yet the highest scoring state of New Jersey only scored a B+ with a score of 87.[6]

The area that hurt Iowa the most was Public Access to Information. Iowa scored a 47, which is an F.[7] The two questions that were evaluated in this area:
• Do citizens have a legal right of access to information? (Score of 50 percent)
• Is the right of access to information effective? (Score of 44 percent)[8]

The main reasons Iowa came up short with these two questions is that Iowa has no established institutional mechanism through which citizens can request government records, there is no agency that monitors the application of access to information laws and regulations, and there are no penalties imposed on offenders.[9]

In 2012 the Iowa Legislature passed Iowa Code chapter 23, which establishes the IPIB.[10] The purpose of the IPIB as defined by chapter 23 is to “prepare and transmit to the Governor and to the General Assembly, at least annually, reports describing complaints received, board proceedings, investigations, hearings conducted, decisions rendered, and other work performed by the board.”[11] The hope is that this board will have a direct impact on the F that Iowa received in the category of Public Access to Information.

The IPIB was appointed in July 2012 and officially became operational on July 8, 2013. The board has nine members and is an independent agency. The following are the board members of the IPIB:
• Robert Andeweg, JD, Urbandale (Republican) - Robert is an attorney with the Nyemaster Goode Law Firm in Des Moines. He has served on the Urbandale City Council and currently serves as that city’s Mayor.  
• Tony Gaughan, JD, West Des Moines (Republican) - Tony is an attorney who is an Assistant Professor of Law at Drake University in Des Moines.  His term will expire this year.
• Jo Martin, Spirit Lake (Democrat) - Jo is a semi-retired Vice President of Times-Citizen Communications in Iowa Falls, having worked for several other Iowa newspapers prior to that. She is a past President of the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA) and the Iowa Newspaper Foundation (INF).  Her term will expire this year.
• Andy McKean, JD, Anamosa (Republican) – Andy is an attorney who has served as a City Attorney (Morley, Martelle, and Mechanicsville), a County Supervisor (Jones County 2003-2011), and a State Legislator (State Representative 1979-1993 and State Senator 1993-2003).
• Gary Mohr, Bettendorf (Independent) - Gary is Executive Director, External Affairs for Eastern Iowa Community College in Davenport.  He was elected to the Bettendorf City Council in November 2013.  His IPIB term will expire this year.
• Bill Monroe, Johnston (Republican) (Chairman) - Bill retired after 29 years as Executive Director of the Iowa Newspaper Association in 2009. Prior to that, he worked at several Iowa newspapers as an editor or publisher. In 2011, Governor Branstad named him to serve (in a volunteer capacity) as the Governor’s Transparency Advisor. He has served on the Executive Committee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.  His term will expire this year.
• Kathleen Richardson, JD, Des Moines (Democrat) - Kathleen is Director and Associate Professor at the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Des Moines and has served as Executive Secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council (IFOIC) since 2000. She has also served as a coordinator for the Expanded Media Coverage (camera in the courtroom) program for the Supreme Court.
• Suzan Stewart, JD, Sioux City (Republican) - Suzan is Senior Managing Attorney with MidAmerican Energy Company.   Her term will expire this year.
• Peggy Weitl, Carroll (Democrat) - Peggy retired as the Treasurer of Carroll County on December 31, 2013.[12]

Additionally this board also has three staff members:
• Keith Luchtel, JD, serves as Executive Director.
• Margaret E. Johnson, JD, serves as Deputy Director of the board.
• Cindy Meyerdick, is Administrative Assistant to the board.[13]

As required by Iowa Code subsection 23.6 (12), the IPIB has to report annually on what they have done over the course of the last year. 2014 is the first year for the IPIB to report their activities. For the first six months of official operations, the IPIB has processed over 251 “cases,” of which 43 are formal complaints, 3 are formal opinions, 2 are declaratory orders, 51 are information complaints, 139 are information requests, and 13 are miscellaneous others. Additionally, of the 43 formal complaints, all but two have been resolved.[14] The IPIB expects to have an annual case rate of 300 to 350.[15] But given the first six months, they may see much more than that!

So Iowa is finally taking a few steps in the right direction. We will have to hope that this will really help with everyone’s access to public information. For transparency needs to happen at all levels of government, and finally the average citizen in Iowa has a board to go to with questions about gaining access to information they feel needs to be public. Take the time to check out the Iowa Public Information Board at https://ipib.iowa.gov.

(Endnotes)
[1] “Status Report As Required by Code Subsection 23.6(12),” Iowa Public Information Board, January 24, 2014, p. 1, <https://ipib.iowa.gov/documents/annual-report-2014> accessed on May 1, 2014.
[2] Stephen J. Berry, “Iowa: The story behind the score,” State Integrity Investigation, <http://www.stateintegrity.org/iowa_story_subpage> accessed on April 30, 2014.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Your State,” State Integrity Investigation, <http://www.stateintegrity.org/your_state> accessed on April 30, 2014.
[6] Colleen O’Dea, “New Jersey: The story behind the score,” State Integrity Investigation, <http://www.stateintegrity.org/newjersey_story_subpage> accessed on April 30, 2014.
[7] Berry.
[8] “Iowa – Public Access to Information: F (47 %),” State Integrity Investigation, <http://www.stateintegrity.org/iowa_survey_public_access_to_information> accessed on May 1, 2014.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Status Report As Required by Code Subsection 23.6(12).”
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

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