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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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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Iowa State Fairgrounds closed; Polk County rents dorm for COVID-19 recovery

John Morrissey is a freelance writer in Des Moines. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa State Fair officials closed the fairgrounds on the east side of Des Moines to the public on March 18 and are readying the 4H dormitory near Dean Avenue to house homeless people in the Des Moines area who may come down with minor symptoms of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.

These plans were formalized after Polk County officials were briefed recently with World Health Organization estimates about the spread of COVID-19. If it gets a foothold in the metro area, as many as 34,000 central Iowans could fall ill, and perhaps 1,500 will need intensive care treatment, said Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt McCoy. He repeated the call from local and state officials for people to stay home and avoid contacts that may spread the disease. McCoy said he and other leaders are confident the area’s health care facilities can handle the challenge if the virus infections do not all occur at once.

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