Randy Evans

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Our grammarian governor plays politics with words

Governor Kim Reynolds speaks at the Iowa Tourism Conference on March 20. Photo first published on her official Facebook page.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

“Unsustainable” is a fascinating word, especially when used in government and politics. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary folks, tell us unsustainable means something cannot be continued or supported. 

But in governmental affairs, that definition sometimes gets changed. Instead of something truly being incapable of continuing, the word often means the person using the term simply does not want that “something” to go forward.

Understanding this distinction can help us better parse the statements our politicians make. Here is a real-life example to illustrate this difference:

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Davenport leaders need to put down their shovels

Screenshot from KWQC’s video of the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee’s March 27 meeting. Randy Evans is speaking from the right side of the far end of the table.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

City officials in Davenport have managed to accomplish the impossible this year: They have gotten Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature to agree on something.

The two parties have bickered over topics like changes to the Area Education Agencies, liability protection for farm chemical manufacturers, removing gender balance requirements for state boards, and providing state tax money to arm teachers.

But the D’s and R’s came together in the House in February, voting 92-2 to increase the penalties for government officials who violate Iowa’s open meetings law. The bill, House File 2539, also requires a judge to remove a member of a government board who has twice violated the meetings law.

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It's time for leaders to address "the Big C" in Iowa

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

No problem is so big that we can’t run from it—or at least avoid thinking about it. That’s human nature.

There are many concerns that should command our attention but do not. Too often we hope or assume a serious problem will go away or will spare us.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, too many of us discount whatever the scientists tell us—as if the anonymous pundit on social media knows more than the people who have devoted their lives to studying a particular problem.

But there is something else I have come to realize, unfortunately. Government leaders in Iowa have shown little interest in understanding “the Big C”—the widespread presence of cancer in Iowa. 

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What were these government officials thinking?

State Senator Dan Dawson presents Senate File 2349, regarding defense subpoenas, during floor debate on February 27. Screenshot from official video.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

What were they thinking? That is a question I ask myself a lot lately.

Those were the first words out of my mouth when the Manhattan district attorney had to postpone Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial on the alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels — the delay necessitated because government lawyers had dropped the ball.

I muttered those words during several days of court hearings in Georgia into Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis’ affair with a subordinate prosecutor — the one she chose to lead the criminal case against Trump and a dozen other defendants for trying to undo that state’s 2020 presidential election results.

And those words come to mind about bills the Iowa legislature is considering that would affect criminal cases like those brought against state university athletes for their online wagers on sporting events.

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Irresponsible is irresponsible, regardless of party affiliation

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Like many people who call this state home, I have long taken an interest in the careers and achievements of people who got their start in Iowa. 

As a kid, I was fascinated to walk through that two-room cottage in West Branch, knowing a president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was born there.

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Pay attention to how officials talk—and how they act

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird receives an award from the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association in December 2023. Photo first published on the Attorney General’s official Facebook page.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Voters have busy lives—families to care for, jobs demanding their attention, bills to worry about. 

So, they can be forgiven if they do not closely track their government leaders’ statements and actions. Sometimes voters may find discrepancies between what politicians say and what they do.

Here is one example:

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was in the news last week asking Congress to replenish a federal program, the Victims of Crime Act, which assists crime victims in a variety of ways.

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These days, with political campaigns that seem to go on forever, Iowans may not recognize the significance of what occurred at polling places across the state on November 5, 1968.

Voters approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that day, ending the legislature’s practice of meeting only every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier. 

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Iowa needs to stop creeping secrecy over names

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The increasing secrecy by Iowa law enforcement and their lawyers about identifying people by name raises important questions underlying public confidence in the critical work of first-responders.

The question deals with whether police can or should refuse to identify persons involved in incidents and crimes. Despite Iowa’s history of openness about crimes and accidents, with increasing frequency public officials refuse to provide names of people who end up in these events, whether as victims or perpetrators.

A few examples illustrate this trend:

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It's time to look for ways to reduce tragic toll of guns

Photo of Perry High School is by Richc80, available via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Like many Iowans, my thoughts have been rather chaotic since the horrible news from Perry High School last week.

The events were so sad and senseless. A 17-year-old student was dead, having shot himself. An 11-year-old sixth-grader, known for his big smile and cheerful outlook, was dead from three gunshot wounds. Seven other students and school employees, including the high school principal, were wounded by the teenager.

Americans are numb to the number and frequency of school shootings and other mass killings. Our leaders appear to be paralyzed. Yes, they express their sadness and concern, but thoughts and prayers are not enough.

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An issue that hasn't yet been unfurled in Iowa

New design of Minnesota state flag

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

We Iowans apparently have been kidding ourselves.

Somehow, as we focus on taxes, water quality and allegations of big-government overreach, as we wrestle with immigration, inflation, drug abuse, school choice and women’s reproductive freedom, and as we contemplate transgender issues, academic freedom, religious rights and free speech on college campuses, Iowa has missed another issue—one that appears to be gaining momentum, and controversy, in some states.

The surprising topic of debate? State flags.

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Banning unpopular religious displays is not the solution

Satanic Temple display in the Iowa state capitol, photographed by Laura Belin

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

I really should not be surprised by some comments that represent what passes for civic dialogue in Iowa these days. 

The latest example leaves me shaking my head, not just at the events themselves but at the reactions. Mrs. Gentry, my history and government teacher in high school, would be dismayed by intelligent people misunderstanding one of the foundations upon which the United States was established — that foundation being the desire of people for intellectual freedom.

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Secret government settlements are wrong—period

Photo of Davenport City Hall is by Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

City leaders in Davenport have forgotten that city government there belongs to the people. It does not belong to the folks who were elected to city offices.

This reminder is necessary because of a troubling series of events, unlike any I have seen in five decades of monitoring the goings-on in local governments across Iowa.

The shenanigans should have State Auditor Rob Sand knocking on the doors at City Hall. He should be asking questions on behalf of the tax-paying people of Davenport—because city leaders there are not answering questions from the public or journalists.

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Iowa's state government should face up to care center concerns

Photo by Jonathunder of Cornerstone Assisted Living in Mason City, available through the GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

A few months ago, I bumped into a former aide to Governor Robert Ray. As we reminisced about the governor, our conversation turned to his nearly daily meetings with journalists.

The aide said yes, those press conferences provided reporters with access to the governor and his comments on issues the state was handling and hearing about from Iowans.

But Ray believed the daily press gatherings had another important benefit, too: Ray could do his job more effectively by listening to the journalists’ questions, the aide said.

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Kindness is a medicine that helps us all

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

This is my favorite time of the year. There is no late-night bombardment from infernal fireworks like there is with the Fourth of July. There is not the pressure of Christmas to choose just the right gift.

With Thanksgiving, it is about enjoying the company of family and friends—and deciding whether to scoop up pumpkin pie, apple, or banana cream. With Thanksgiving, it is a time to reflect on our blessings and to think about others who are not as fortunate.

Back during my years as a newspaper editor, I was always eager for stories that raised our spirits and warmed our hearts. Those stories were a needed antidote to the heartache that seemed too often be in the news.

The need for that antidote now is as great as it ever was. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of uplifting news if we look for them.

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Uneasy times as a librarian shuts out other ideas

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The word for today is optics — but not the kind where your eye doctor is an expert.

Instead of eyeglasses, I am thinking about the kind of optics that result when the perception of some person’s or some institution’s values are contradicted by the reality of the actions they take.

The Marshalltown Public Library provided an example of poor optics.

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U.S. government should help families decorate veterans' graves overseas

Tombstone of Lawrence F. Shea at his war grave on the American cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. Photo by Arne Hückelheim, available via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Veterans Day is around the corner. For John and Bob, the day will be for remembering the men and women who serve in the United States military—and two service members, in particular. 

For John, it will be his son, Robert, a Marine lieutenant who will forever be 29 years old. For Bob, it will be his father, Karl, forever the face on treasured family photographs of a handsome 26-year-old Army captain.

John and Bob are patriots through and through. They are not big-government fanatics. They have something else in common, too. They both believe the American people should never forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by members of the U.S. military, and that is a reason they are disappointed with a decision made by the government they love.

They believe the federal government has made a terrible, insensitive mistake by walking away from a pledge to the families of our war dead after World War II—to make it convenient for Gold Star families to remember their 234,000 loved ones who are interred or commemorated in 26 military cemeteries and memorials in more than a dozen foreign countries. 

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Secrecy about state licensing decisions won't protect Iowa consumers

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The rationale behind Iowa’s professional licensing laws is simple: People in certain professions and skilled occupations are required to hold state licenses to work in Iowa. The purpose is to ensure they meet the minimum standard of training and skill necessary to serve consumers safely and effectively.

But a state policy change leads me to wonder whether government officials have lost sight of their obligation to act in the best interests of the public. If officials follow through with the new policy in the coming months, then state legislators should step in next year and correct this ill-conceived decision—and concerned citizens should encourage their lawmakers stick up for the public.

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Question reveals differing views on "wasteful" spending

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

For many years, an Iowa State University political science professor and I met several times a year for coffee and conversation.

During our coffee klatches, I probed my friend’s thinking on world affairs, on government issues, and on politics in Iowa and across the United States. I suspect he tried to use these get-togethers to give me a something of a graduate-level seminar in American government, absent any lectures. 

Educators these days are frequently accused of trying to indoctrinate their students with a particular point of view. But what I came to realize during those sessions at the Stomping Grounds coffee shop in Ames was fundamental to excellence in teaching: The professor did not tell me what to think. He tried to get me to think more clearly and to analyze with more sophistication and depth. He helped me spot weaknesses in my own opinions and develop a better understanding of factors that may lead other people to see things differently than I did.

After retiring, my friend sold his acreage and left Iowa for a more scenic place to live. Our caffeine intake has declined, but we still stay in touch via email. Last week, the professor’s Stomping Grounds “student” field-tested the professor’s method of posing challenging questions to get people to re-examine their own opinions and see why some people have a different view than other people. 

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There's more to serving than winning elections

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com. In the photo above, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter posed with Katie Evans and her parents, Sue and Randy Evans, outside Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, in 2011.

Back where I came from, you do not expect to have a bomb-sniffing dog circle your car when you pull into the parking lot for Sunday church services.

But that is what occurred. After the dog’s sensitive nose checked our car, a man on the front step gave us a quick once-over with his hand-held metal detector. Then an usher directed my wife, our youngest daughter and me into a pew in the second row of the sanctuary of the simple brick building with a thin spire. 

Of course, until that day in April 2011 I had never been to church when a former president of the United States was teaching the Sunday School lesson. It is easy to become flummoxed—even for an editor who has conversed with presidents and quizzed many wannabe’s—when Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter slide into the pew beside you.

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Misguided government proposal targets "vexatious" people

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Many decades ago, Mrs. Gentry and Mr. Halferty put up with an inquisitive kid’s classroom questions about American democracy and the workings of government.

I did not imagine back then how the meaning of some words could take on such importance in government. Take, for example, a much-talked-about word in Iowa last week, vexatious. It means abrasive, aggravating, annoying, irritating or nettlesome.

Whether you vote for Democrats, Republicans or Whigs, everyone should have access to government records that are not confidential. That is a way for you to understand what your state and local government is doing.

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Pentagon lesson on waste sails into Iowa

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com. Joaquin Sapien reported for ProPublica on September 7 about the Navy’s spending on littoral combat ships, which “broke down across the globe” and are being decommissioned.

Iowa is about as far removed from an ocean as you can get. But this state figures in recent news reports about the U.S. Navy—and not in a puff-up-our-chest-with-pride way.

One of the reports was a New York Times examination of the Navy’s largest ship-building budget in history, $32 billion this year alone, and the tug-of-war that pot of money has created inside the seagoing service. 

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DeSantis needs to use diplomacy before talking of invasion

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Campaigning for public office is no picnic. Day after day there are speeches, Q&A’s, interviews and the constant need to think before you speak.

Candidates eat enough chicken to have Colonel Sanders clucking approval. But for those who speak before engaging their brains, there other item on the menu often is crow.

The miscues are not the sole province of one party’s candidates to the exclusion of the other’s. Ask 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about that “basket of deplorables.” Ask 2022 U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer if she now wishes she had chosen a different way to express displeasure with a judge’s ruling on a challenge to her nomination papers.

In recent days, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pledged that if elected president, he will send United States military forces into Mexico to deal with the drug cartels “on day one.” 

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Judicial ethics in Iowa differ from Washington ethics

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

There were more disclosures in recent days in the ongoing saga involving the ethical standards of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court—or, more accurately, the lack of ethical standards.

With each new disclosure about our nation’s highest court, the reputations of Iowa Supreme Court justices take on more luster—and deservedly so.

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Not every Iowa life is sacred

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.

That is how she lived.

How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.

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House Oversight Committee tilting at UFOs

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com. Last year, Herb Strentz marked the 75th anniversary of the “flying saucer” phenomenon with this essay about the military’s investigations of UFO sightings.

Silly me. I thought I had been paying attention to the issues about which Iowans feel strongly.

You know, things like inflation, taxes, government spending, the war in Ukraine, a new farm bill, water quality, immigration, the federal debt. Those sorts of issues.

But I have spaced off a vital issue in the minds of some in Congress—an issue that apparently has been flying under the radar of Iowans. That issue is aliens from another world.

While Joe and Jane Iowan were fretting last week about drought and the effect of oppressive heat on crops, livestock, and humans, some members of the U.S. House of Representatives gathered in a hearing room on Capitol Hill.

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Thin skin plagues some Iowa officials

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Around the time the famous movie “The Bridges of Madison County” premiered in 1995, author Robert James Waller was at a book-signing in West Des Moines. Between scribbling his signature for fans on copies of his novel, Waller answered questions from a Des Moines Register reporter.

At one point, the persnickety Iowan became peeved by the nature of the reporter’s questions. He yanked the notebook from her hand and flipped it aside. 

That led to a letter to the editor a few days later in the Register in which a reader observed that Waller should use some of his millions in book and movie royalties to buy himself a thicker skin.

Some local government officials in Iowa show signs of needing thicker skins, too, because they have tried to silence critics at meetings of city councils and school boards for making comments they did not like.

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When governing loses track of its purpose

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

One of the photographs of my father that I clearly remember appeared on the pages of the Bloomfield Democrat about 60 years ago.

Pop was standing chest-deep in a hole that had been hastily dug in the street on the Bloomfield city square. His face was grim. There was urgent work to be done, because much of Bloomfield was without water. 

An underground main had broken a block from the city’s water tower. Water was gushing into the street and flooding basements of nearby businesses. 

There, in that hole with water pooled at his ankles, Pop shoveled muck and mud to expose the leaking pipe so it could be repaired. 

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What Iowa leaders don’t grasp about books in schools

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

My late friend Paul was a fine Des Moines teacher. I wish the Evans girls had him for history and government. 

Judging from his ability to entertain me with descriptions of his interactions with students, parents and administrators, I am confident he could make the Peloponnesian War come alive for his history students and hold their attention.

If I live to be 100, I will never forget him relating anecdotes from parent-teacher conferences. He described one student sitting next to Mom, listening as Paul expressed concern about the kid’s sluggishness many mornings.

Then came the money quote: “You know the rules!” Mom exclaimed, looking her son in the eyes. “There’s no marijuana use on school nights!”

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Bettendorf schools, state board blunder in major transparency case

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These are challenging times for Iowa’s 327 public school districts. 

They are being watched closely by state officials and lawmakers, by parents and by others in the community. These eyes are looking for signs schools are treading lightly on topics like racial history and sexual orientation or that schools are being distracted from dealing with unruly kids who disrupt other students’ learning.

With this heightened scrutiny, some districts are doing themselves a disservice when they try to keep the public in the dark.

Here’s a real-life example. It illustrates my belief government will never build trust and confidence with its constituents when government leaders engage in secrecy and deception. This episode is also a case study of how a state government board dealing exclusively with transparency issues can be too timid. 

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Cameras are a must in Trump criminal case

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Forty-four years ago, the Iowa Supreme Court made an important change in the way the state courts operate, by allowing journalists to bring their cameras and audio recorders inside courtrooms during hearings and trials to better inform the public about noteworthy cases.

Iowa was a pioneer in making its court proceedings more accessible and transparent to those who could not be there in person.

It is long overdue for the federal courts to follow Iowa’s lead and swing open the doors of federal courtrooms across the country to provide similar access. The coming proceedings in Florida in the case of United States of America vs. Donald J. Trump cry out for making this change.

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We honored Cameron and remembered Governor Ray

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Sue and I were in Washington, Iowa, last month for a high school graduation.

It was a special occasion because the people we joined with in honoring young Cameron, the newly minted Washington High School grad, have been our friends for almost 44 years.

It is important to know that while family and friends gathered to celebrate this milestone in the young man’s life, there was one noteworthy person close to the family’s heart who was there in spirit, because he truly made this wonderful day possible. 

That person was the late Robert Ray, Iowa’s former governor, who died in 2018. He is a revered figure in the lives of Cameron’s extended family and in the lives of thousands of immigrant families.  

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Millions of reasons why outside scrutiny is important

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

When FBI agents led a Dixon, Illinois, official out of city hall in handcuffs and the charges against her became public, the most often asked question was “How?”

How did City Comptroller Rita Crundwell manage to embezzle an astounding $54 million from the northwest Illinois community of 15,700 people before she was finally detected? 

How did city officials and an outside CPA auditing firm fail to get even a whiff of her brazen scheme for the 22 years she robbed the city treasury?

Crundwell was arrested in 2012. Her case is old news now. But Iowans should have more than idle curiosity in her crime.

Hers is a textbook case of why it is important to have independent outside auditors and investigators with the legal tools and the expertise to dig into potential “paper” crimes or misconduct involving government employees. 

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Why this school district's secrecy prompted us to sue

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

In 2017, the Iowa legislature responded to concerns from Governor Terry Branstad and amended Iowa law to ensure that when government employees are forced out of their jobs, the reasons must be made public and not shrouded in secrecy.

The goal was commendable. The governor was right. People deserve to be told “why.” It is called public accountability.

Since then, the transparency promised six years ago has diminished.

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Keeping Iowa in the dark on water quality is not acceptable

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

If you watch the Iowa legislature in action, you will see some truisms time and again. 

Such as: Each political party is in favor of transparency and accountability—until they gain the majority. Then those politicians see many reasons why transparency and accountability are problematic.

Another: If you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there.

And then there is today’s truism: Don’t ask a question if you are afraid of the answer.

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Who knew there were two sides to waste, fraud, and abuse?

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

I thought the often-repeated desire to weed out waste, fraud and abuse from government spending was something Republicans, Democrats, and independents could all agree on in Iowa.

Boy, am I naive.

A bit of recent Iowa government history illustrates this contradiction between our elected officials’ statements and their actions.

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A week to celebrate accountability in Iowa

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Last week was one to savor. But it also was a week to reflect on how far we still need to travel to have true citizen engagement in our state and local governments.

First, some savoring.

The Iowa League of Women Voters honored me and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the nonprofit, nonpartisan education and advocacy organization I lead. The annual Defending Democracy Award means so much—knowing it comes from the organizational descendants of the women who pushed for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote and who rallied in countless places across America, including right here in Bloomfield (Davis County), to make that happen.

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Is it right to treat big whales differently from small fish?

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

On a late summer afternoon in Bloomfield 40 years ago, the people of Iowa learned about an unofficial government principle we have seen repeated in recent weeks.

Although this has played out in various ways through the years, it ultimately comes down to the same concept: If your problem is large enough, government will step in and lend you a helping hand. But if government decides yours is not a big problem, you probably will have to fend for yourself.

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Iowa out of step on access to police video

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Every few months, someone is killed or injured by police somewhere in the United States under circumstances that lead to inevitable questions about what exactly occurred.

Typically, answers come when video from the law officers’ squad car cameras or their uniform cameras is made public. Each time this occurs, there are two inescapable conclusions:

First, police in most states realize it is their obligation to release this video. They know that public faith and respect for law officers will suffer if citizens and journalists are prevented from viewing the footage, especially when an incident results in death or injury, most notably when the person was not armed.

And second, each time such video is released somewhere in the United States, it becomes obvious Iowa is out of step with most other states — because in Iowa, law enforcement agencies and government attorneys insist the video must forever remain off-limits because it is part of a confidential investigative file.

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Libraries shouldn't look for reasons to exclude

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

It hasn’t been easy to be a librarian lately.

Sixty-plus years ago, back when the library card was a coveted sign of my status as a young reader, Miss Botts and Mrs. Sager were never viewed as conspirators of controversy in the corner of the free world where I grew up.

I never remember a time when their domain, Bloomfield’s library shelves, was a controversial place to be.

That was then. Now, too many people in Iowa have drawn targets on the backs of the librarians in Iowa’s schools and town libraries.

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Iowa leaders could learn from a rural school district's openness

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

An interesting study in contrasts is playing out right now in Iowa. 

One example comes from the Davis County Community Schools in Bloomfield. It is the 96th-largest of Iowa’s 328 public districts, with an enrollment of 1,150 students.

The other example comes from the Iowa legislature and Governor Kim Reynolds. 

The Davis County school board is wrestling with an incredibly difficult decision—whether to hold classes four days a week instead of the traditional five-day-a-week schedule. 

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Iowa governor supports a different indoctrination

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

A recent public opinion poll found that three-quarters of Americans want members of Congress to end their bickering and begin compromising more with their colleagues from the other party.

Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion conducted the nationwide poll in December for National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour.

If such a survey were conducted in Iowa, it’s my hunch the pollsters would find people here have similar views of the inability, or unwillingness, of senators and representatives in Washington to engage in the thoughtful give-and-take art of lawmaking.

It is also my hunch that Iowans are at a similar point with respect to the legislature’s recent string of proposed laws that target our 327 public school districts.

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Elections, not caucuses, should be the focus

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Not that she asked, but I have some advice for Rita Hart, the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Yes, Hart is an experienced practitioner of politics. She was twice elected to the Iowa Senate. She was the Democrats’ lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with Fred Hubbell in 2018. And two years ago, she came within an eyelash—six votes—of winning a seat in Congress. She also is a former teacher and still farms with her husband near the Clinton County town of Wheatland.

Normally, I would trust the judgment of someone with her credentials on what her priorities should be as the Iowa Democrats’ top state leader. But this is the Iowa Democratic Party, and too many party activists, along with civic boosters and journalists, cling to the belief that the process of choosing presidential nominees absolutely and without question must begin in Iowa.

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So many questions, but so few answers

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that private school vouchers appear to be barreling toward passage during the third week of the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session. These vouchers, or education savings accounts, or whatever you want to call them, would give parents $7,600 per year for each of their kids to attend a private K-12 school.

Although the outcome has been easy to foresee, it has not been easy to get answers to the many questions being asked across the state as Iowa lawmakers move toward this landmark change in education.

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When "reasonable" becomes unreasonable

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The legislature wrote Iowa’s public records law 55 years ago, and one of the statute’s tenets was the belief people deserve to know how state and local governments spend their tax money.

Another important concept in the law is that fees for copies of government records must be reasonable and cannot exceed the actual cost of providing the documents.

That brings us today to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, where administrators appear not to grasp what “reasonable” means.

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Iowa GOP trifecta dropped the ball with vets

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

In politics, having a “trifecta” in government is a good thing for a political party—until the trifecta’s inaction on some popular issue starts to haunt those in power.

Iowa Republicans served up an example of the consequences of such inaction in the days leading up to Christmas. This story involves military veterans, a highly sought-after constituency that is part of any solid political movement.

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Supreme Court case could become slippery slope

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Few people like being told what they must do. Lorie Smith is one of them.

The suburban Denver, Colorado business owner, a devout Christian, builds websites for customers. She wants to expand her business and begin building websites for couples who are planning weddings.

But she is adamant that she does not want to be forced to build websites for same-sex couples. Doing so, she says, would violate her faith, which does not allow her to celebrate same-sex marriages.

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Don't lose sight of what's important, Iowa Democrats

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Judging from the furrowed brows and dire predictions in Iowa, you might have thought a national Democratic Party committee had voted to eliminate motherhood and apple pie last week.

Actually, what the committee eliminated was Iowa’s first-in-the-nation spot for the Democratic precinct caucuses, a coveted kick-off role for Iowans in the party’s presidential nomination process every four years since 1972.

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Ferentz fields questions, but governor rarely does

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

It is safe to assume Kirk Ferentz has not enjoyed the glorious autumn in Iowa the way he would prefer.

He has feverishly worked his Bubble Yum during the Hawkeyes’ games this season. He has been worked over during his post-game press conferences and again at his weekly meetings with the media on Tuesdays.

Being a college football coach is never a picnic. But this year, life for the longest-tenured football coach in big-time college athletics has been more stressful than most years.

We saw that last week when the normally measured coach referred to the media session with journalists following the Hawkeyes’ 54-10 loss to Ohio State University as an “interrogation.” 

But I come today to sing Kirk Ferentz’s praises, not to dog-pile on him.

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Hey, politicians, are loan bailouts good or bad?

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

I try to stay atop the day’s news. But I must have dozed off last week — because I missed the response from Iowa Republican leaders to the Biden administration’s announcement of $1.3 billion in debt relief to 36,000 farmers who have fallen behind on their farm loan payments.

In making the announcement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years. The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

I am not here to question the wisdom of the federal assistance. But the silence from Governor Kim Reynolds and U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst is markedly different from their criticism after President Joe Biden announced in August that the government would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for most borrowers.

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When "reasonable" takes a turn that is not

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

“Reasonable” is a word that is used often in Iowa’s laws. Reasonable fees. Reasonable rules. Reasonable efforts. Reasonable force.

But events in recent weeks show government officials are not always following what many Iowans would think the term means. And when government officials deviate from “reasonable,” they should not be surprised if their standing or the stature of their agency suffers in the public’s eyes.

Consider the Linn-Mar Community School District.

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Voters, don't let tv ads mislead you

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Televisions are getting larger, but that does not make it easier to decipher the political ads that are as common these days as gnats at a picnic.

There is one thing we should understand about these ads: Their purpose is not to educate voters or inform them about the finer points of a candidate’s views. Instead, their purpose is to scare us, or mislead us, or just confuse us.

One such example tells Iowa viewers that U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, a Democrat from Iowa’s third district, refuses to sign a pledge to support term limits for members of Congress. (Term Limits Action is spending $157,203 to run the ads.)

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Secrecy won't build trust after school cyber attacks

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

These days, I stand in front of audiences and engage in what is politely called “public speaking” more often than even Mr. Gentry ever imagined when I showed up at his office door 55 years ago with a bug-eyed expression of concern.

Mr. Gentry was the guidance counselor at Davis County High School. He was in charge of class scheduling. What brought me to his doorstep was noticing I would be taking “Speech” class that semester.

Before I could say anything, however, he presciently said, “You probably are wondering about the Speech class. You will thank me someday.” That “someday” has arrived. You were correct, Mr. Gentry.

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Iowa gives too little attention to elder care

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

People in the health care field have worked their tails off since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa with a vengeance in 2020.

Doctors, nurses, and all manner of technicians and support staff have performed heroically under circumstances that often were trying.

But the death this year of a patient at a Centerville care center has struck a chord with many Iowans — and not just because COVID claimed another life. The reaction has ranged from sadness to anger because the person’s treatment was unprofessional, uncaring and incompetent, if not bordering on criminal.

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Two wake-up calls on police abuses of power in Iowa

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

Many of us have trouble mustering empathy for people who have complaints about the way police treated them.

This lack of empathy probably occurs because many ordinary folks do not think they will be in situations like people accused of crimes.

If that description applies to you, allow me to introduce you to Anthony Watson, 43, of Coralville, and Jennifer Pritchard, also 43, of Fort Dodge.

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If Grandma can Zoom, so can the government

Randy Evans: Too many government boards refuse to offer the virtual access that has become a part of everyday life for many Iowans.

In my day job, I wear the hat of the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has been around for 40-plus years.

We advocate on behalf of the public and journalists for government transparency and accountability to the people of this state.

Periodically, I speak to groups of government employees and elected officials. One question that often comes up in those settings and in individual conversations with government leaders is some version of, “How are we doing?”

These days, this is what I tell them if they ask.

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Iowa Supreme Court's unfair message: "Take one for the team"

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

In 1972, Gordon Garrison purchased 300 acres of farmland in Emmet County, a rectangle near the Minnesota border one county to the east of the Iowa Great Lakes. 

The Iowa State University agricultural engineering graduate began raising sheep and crops. He also set about working to restore the “prairie pothole” ecology of shallow wetlands that was common in northwestern Iowa when white settlers began arriving 175 years ago. 

Garrison built a house on his land in 1999. He still lives there, although his quality of life has taken a troubling turn since he put down roots there.  

Life for Garrison and his neighbors changed significantly in December 2015 when New Fashion Pork LLP built a CAFO, or a confined animal feeding operation, uphill from and adjacent to Garrison’s property. The confinement building — which the state allows to house 4,400 to 8,800 hogs, depending on their size — is about a half mile from Garrison’s property. 

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Abby Finkenauer’s rhetoric was embarrassingly misguided

Randy Evans: What Abby Finkenauer should know — and what Donald Trump also should understand — is that it is not evidence of bias when a judge disagrees with your position in a dispute.

A common refrain from Democrats during Donald Trump’s years in the presidency was that he was undermining public trust and confidence in our courts with his talk of judges being biased and having political motives when they ruled against him. 

Trump’s comments were a bunch of hooey — and it certainly was a bunch of hooey last week, too, when a prominent Iowa Democrat, U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer, sang from the Trump song sheet about judicial bias

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Iowa losing its way on our public schools

Randy Evans: Iowa’s foundation in education is being tested as surely as if an EF5 tornado were bearing down on every public-school building. 

This is one of those times when people who have little appetite for politics need to pay attention — because a big change is coming that many folks won’t agree with. 

When the U.S. Mint asked each state to pick an image to represent the state on a series of special quarters in 2004, Iowa chose its schools. The quarter featured a likeness of Grant Wood’s famous painting of a one-room country school, with the message “Foundation in Education.”  

The choice was not surprising. Our schools have been something in which Iowans have long taken great pride. Our chests swelled each time Iowa stood atop the nation’s college entrance exam rankings. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds even campaigned for office in 2010 on a promise to bring Iowa’s schools up to world-class stature. 

That was then. This year, Iowa’s foundation in education is being tested as surely as if an EF5 tornado were bearing down on every public-school building. 

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School teaches taxpayers an expensive lesson

Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans kicks off Sunshine Week by sharing details the Des Moines school district didn’t disclose when announcing Dr. Tom Ahart’s resignation.

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.

His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.

But you would be wrong, wrong, and wrong.

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More secrecy unwise in universities’ hiring decisions

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com.

Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions.

The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother state lawmakers, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa.

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State Fair meeting was affront to open government

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com. -promoted by Laura Belin

The decision last week to cancel the Iowa State Fair was a reminder of the seriousness of coronavirus and the consequences of many people’s anxiety about returning to activities that normally are an important part of Iowa life.

But the State Fair’s decision also illuminated an embarrassing disconnect from the norms of government transparency and accountability in our state.

I have attended government meetings for 50 years — from small-town city councils and school boards, to state boards and commissions. I have never seen or heard about a more outrageous abuse of the principle of open government than the State Fair Board exhibited last week.

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COVID-19 crisis underscores how vital information is

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. -promoted by Laura Belin

We have all become acutely aware in the past few weeks why masks and face shields, respirators and ventilators are so important for hospital workers and their patients.

The supply is not keeping up with the need, and that could have dire consequences for the doctors, nurses, and patients.

Likewise, the novel coronavirus crisis has underscored the importance of another valuable commodity — access to accurate, authoritative information.

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A friendship built around ideas, not fishing

Randy Evans remembers former U.S. Representative Berkley Bedell, who “never stopped trying to make a difference in our world.” -promoted by Laura Belin

Berkley Bedell and I were both retired when our friendship really blossomed.

He made a fortune in fishing tackle. I never had the patience to fish.

Instead, we bonded over ideas — ideas about politics and issues facing the world and the United States and ways we thought today’s thorny problems should be addressed by our leaders.

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University of Iowa utility secrecy: A blow to public accountability

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa Board of Regents is being asked this week to consider a complex proposal to turn the operation of the University of Iowa’s utility system over to an unnamed a business that will be paid to operate it for the next 50 years.

The business will make a cash payment of undisclosed size to the university up front in return for the privilege of managing the coal-burning power plant, water treatment plant and the infrastructure for distributing electricity, steam and water across the sprawling campus and hospital complex. In return, the business is guaranteed a 50-year stream of revenue from its one customer.

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Apparently, legal deadlines don’t apply to everyone

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and previously was editorial page editor and assistant managing editor of the Des Moines Register. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Some of the most stressful memories I have of my school days involve the words, “We’re going to have a pop quiz today.”

Don’t panic, but there’s a pop quiz today. Here goes:

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Don’t hide government officials from the public

Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans reflects on the flawed draft advisory opinion the Iowa Public Information Board’s staff proposed in response to my inquiry. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I sometimes think government officials overlook the important role the public plays in our system of government.

That was my takeaway last week from the monthly meeting of the Iowa Public Information Board.

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The governor is wrong to think silence will work

Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, weighs in on the secrecy surrounding the recent dismissal of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Here we go again.

The ink is barely dry on the $1.75 million check the taxpayers of Iowa had to write last fall to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit won by an employee of the Iowa Senate Republican staff.

The leader of the Senate Republicans, Bill Dix of Shell Rock, resigned March 12, a few hours after photos and a video were made public showing him kissing a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities.

There’s more.

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