# Iowa Public Information Board



Should Iowans finance more government secrecy? No, but...

Herb Strentz discusses the disappointing work of the Iowa Public Information Board, which was created ten years ago to enforce the state’s open meetings and records laws.

Question: Should “We the people” of Iowa pay for our government not telling us what it is doing?

Answer: The question is rhetorical, because we already do so—even though as a matter of principle and given the intent of Iowa’s Sunshine laws, we should not.

The center of this Q&A is the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB). When created in 2012, after years of work with state lawmakers, the board was heralded. The concept was, challenges to government secrecy would be subject to quick, inexpensive answers. No need to hire a lawyer to represent your concerns.

But two good commentaries illustrate how those dreams were more like delusions.

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Board to scrap proposed open records rules, for now

The Iowa Public Information Board will not move forward with proposed administrative rules regarding open records requests, the board’s executive director Margaret Johnson told members of the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee on July 19. Instead, the board’s rules committee will consider feedback next month and put the matter on the agenda for the full board’s September meeting.

Board members have not yet determined whether to let the proposed rule die by taking no action, or whether to post a formal notice of termination. Nor have they decided whether to draft a new version of open records rules after scrapping their first effort.

Johnson said the board had heard from eight speakers at a public hearing on July 11 and received nineteen written comments on the draft rule. (Board staff provided copies of those comments to Bleeding Heartland.)

When summarizing for state lawmakers the criticism the information board received, Johnson did not mention transparency advocates’ concerns about language that would create new excuses for officials wanting to delay providing records. Rather, she highlighted three objections offered by those representing government bodies.

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Transparency advocates sound alarm about draft open records rules

Longtime advocates for access to public records in Iowa expressed concern this week about new administrative rules proposed by the Iowa Public Information Board.

The draft rules would spell out requirements for acknowledging and responding “promptly” to public records requests, but would also create a new excuse for government bodies that fail to provide timely access to records. Nothing in Iowa’s open records statute, known as Chapter 22, authorizes the board’s proposed language on “unforeseen circumstances,” nor is that concept consistent with Iowa Supreme Court precedent.

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State agency took 170 days to produce maternal health records

Rachel Bruns recounts the saga of trying to obtain records that the Iowa Department of Public Health could have provided promptly.

In an article I wrote for this website in January 2021, Provider practices in Iowa lead to more c-sections, complications, I mentioned that I had requested records from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) on the number of cesarean births and vaginal births after cesarean (VBACs) in Iowa hospitals.

A lot has happened related to my request since then. I’m summarizing my experience in case it can help other Iowans seeking what should be public information from a government entity.

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Reynolds dodges tough call; State Fair board dodges open meetings practice

In its most closely-watched meeting in living memory, the Iowa State Fair board voted on June 10 not to hold the fair this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the board’s 11-2 vote was livestreamed, the brief meeting shed no light on the deliberations. There was no public discussion of the pros and cons of postponing the event until 2021. Nor did members debate alternative scenarios explored by staff, like holding a scaled-back event with limited attendance, mandatory face coverings, or temperature checks.

All board members present avoided a public stand on the difficult decision through a secret ballot vote, in apparent contradiction with Iowa’s open meetings law.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ designated representative on the body missed the meeting entirely.

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Fighting city hall on the state level

Exclusive reporting by Marty Ryan on his efforts to hold the Iowa Board of Corrections accountable for failing to follow state law. -promoted by Laura Belin

“You can’t fight city hall,” the saying goes. It means you may get more gratification from beating your head against a wall than from fighting with government bureaucratic processes.

I have fought city hall, but I think I can count the successes on one finger. My recent challenge to secure a win for common sense was beat back last month when the Iowa Public Information Board dismissed the complaint I had filed against the Iowa Board of Corrections in July.

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