# Transparency



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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Davenport secrecy inspires Iowa House bill on sunshine laws

Photo of Davenport skyline is by WeaponizingArchitecture and available via Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House has overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to improve local government compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

House File 2539, approved by 92 votes to 2 on February 22, would increase fines for members of a local government body who participated in an open meetings violation, from the current range of $100 to $500 to a range of $500 to $2,500. Penalties would be greater for those who “knowingly” participated in the violation: each could be fined between $5,000 and $12,500, compared to $1,000 to $2,500 under current law.

The bill would also require all elected or appointed public officials to complete a one- to two-hour training course on Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws (known as Chapter 21 and Chapter 22). The Iowa Public Information Board would provide the training, which officials would need to complete within 90 days of being elected, appointed, or sworn in.

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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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How Iowans can call in the watchdog

State Auditor Rob Sand speaks at a public town hall in Onawa (Monona County) on May 22, 2023. Photo provided by State Auditor’s office.

Rob Sand is Iowa’s state auditor.

As Iowa’s taxpayer watchdog, I hear from Iowans just about every day with concerns about state and local government. Oftentimes, there are steps my office can take to address those concerns; other times, the next step is as simple as directing folks to the best channel in state government to address their question. Sometimes, it’s easy to also confuse misplaced priorities for misspent money—one requires a change in leadership, and the other requires an audit investigation.

Randy Evans, the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, recently raised questions about the state auditor’s responsibility to investigate secret government settlements. Evans wrote in his column that the situation “should have State Auditor Rob Sand knocking on the doors at City Hall” and “asking questions on behalf of the tax-paying people of Davenport.”

What many people don’t know, however, is that the state auditor needs some kind of request to conduct a review at the local level.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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Nine new year's wishes for a better Iowa


Ralph Rosenberg of Ames is a retired attorney, former state legislator, former director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and former leader of statewide Iowa nonprofit organizations. He and Barbara Wheelock, also of Ames, signed this open letter on behalf of PRO Iowa 24, a group of concerned rural Iowans with progressive values from Greene, Guthrie, Boone, Story, and Dallas counties.

Now is a good time for the public to make their wishes known for 2024 state policies. Tell your legislators to act on behalf of all Iowans, create an economy that works for all Iowans, and use the government to protect the most vulnerable. Republicans can enact each and every one of these items on a bipartisan basis.

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Ten possible reasons Kim Reynolds is the most unpopular governor

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

After being re-elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, I met newly elected State Senator Kim Reynolds in 2009 at an event where a bipartisan group of “veteran” legislators were giving advice to newly elected ones. My next interaction with Reynolds was when she was lieutenant governor, and Governor Terry Branstad appointed me to serve as Vice-Chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. After I was promoted to chair that board, I met frequently with Branstad and Reynolds, apprising them of the progressive measures the board was undertaking.

Two recent surveys by Morning Consult, released in late October and late November, identified Reynolds as the country’s governor with the highest disapproval rating. A summary of the October poll noted, “her unpopularity increased partly because of a surge in negative sentiment among independent and Republican voters during a year in which she signed a strict anti-abortion law and took a lashing from former President Donald Trump …”

What has happened to Iowa since Reynolds assumed the office of governor on May 24, 2017?

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Exclusive: After budget boost, Iowa governor gave senior staff big raises

Governor Kim Reynolds gave four of her top staffers raises ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent several months after Republican lawmakers approved a major boost to the governor’s office budget.

The large pay increases took effect in early September, according to salary records Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request. All staff in the governor’s office had already received a 3 percent raise at the beginning of fiscal year 2024 in July.

Public employees often receive a small bump in compensation at the start of a new fiscal year, but few are able to obtain raises of 10 percent or more without a promotion or a significant change to their job duties.

A spokesperson for Reynolds described the salary hikes as an “important investment” and asserted that “offering salaries commensurate with experience and job responsibilities is critical to ensuring optimal performance and continuity of state government.”

However, data the governor’s office provided to Bleeding Heartland did not support the claim that many of Reynolds’ staffers were previously underpaid compared to counterparts in similar states.

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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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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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Public is poorer when leaders avoid news conferences

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

How long since you’ve read a story from an actual news conference with the United States president or the Iowa governor? Or since you’ve viewed one on TV?

Probably quite a while, and if you remember one, it probably took place quite a while after the one before that.

It used to be customary for a chief executive to hold regular press conferences, where reporters could ask questions, including followups. Not anymore. Today what passes for a “press conference” is usually a staged event where the executive reads a statement, maybe delivers a one-liner to one of the many shouted questions, and then exits stage right.

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State board split on how to approach "vexatious requesters" of public records

The Iowa Public Information Board will continue to weigh options for giving government bodies more tools to deal with people who allegedly use public records requests in a harassing way.

Discussion during the board’s September 21 meeting revealed sharp differences of opinion over the proper role for the state board, which is charged with providing guidance and resolving disputes over Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws. Board members agreed to have a committee gather more information before deciding whether to proceed with a legislative proposal giving government bodies a way to have troublesome individuals declared “vexatious requesters.”

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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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State board concerned about "vexatious requesters" of public records

The Iowa Public Information Board will consider options for government bodies to deal with individuals who file “excessive and abusive” public records requests. During a September 15 telephonic meeting of the board’s legislative committee, members E.J. Giovannetti and Barry Lindahl tabled proposed legislation that would allow governments to have some people declared “vexatious requesters.”

But they agreed to put the topic on the agenda for the full board, which could adopt an advisory opinion for dealing with burdensome records requests, or could ask the state legislature to address the issue.

Prior to the meeting, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council warned Iowa Public Information Board members that the proposed changes to Iowa Code would “seriously erode” the state’s open records law and would violate the constitution while trying to solve a “nonexistent problem.”

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Iowa board review committee's "public input" was a farce

“It was a great day to hear from Iowans,” Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen told reporters on September 6. He was speaking in his role as chair of Iowa’s temporary Boards and Commissions Review Committee, after nearly 70 people had testified about proposed changes to more than 100 state boards and commissions.

The two-plus hour public hearing created the impression that affected Iowans had ample opportunities to provide feedback in person. The committee is also accepting comments submitted via email (BCRCcomments@iowa.gov) through September 17.

Although some testimony or written comments may prompt the committee to tweak its plans for certain boards, the reality is that in many ways, Paulsen and other committee members prevented Iowans from offering meaningful input on the proposed changes.

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Proposed cull of Iowa boards will reduce public access, input

Pam Mackey Taylor is the Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

This summer a new committee, mostly controlled by Governor Kim Reynolds, embarked on a project to review Iowa’s boards and commissions. The six members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee worked mostly in secrecy, using two-member subcommittees to avoid open meetings law requirements. Members announced their draft recommendations on August 29.

Some of those recommendations would have far-reaching impacts on everyday Iowans and how state government is able to respond to the problems and issues we face, such as clean water, healthy air, and government regulations that work for all of us.

The recommendations appear to reduce and restrict public access and input in the decision-making process, as well as public oversight of state government agencies. These recommendations appear to consolidate power within the governor’s office, where decisions are made behind closed doors with as little public input as possible, and where the only people who have input are the lobbyists and friends of the governor.

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Iowa county withholds footage related to senator's RAGBRAI arrest

Officials in Sac County, Iowa are refusing to provide footage from law enforcement body cameras and dashboard cameras related to State Senator Adrian Dickey’s arrest last month during RAGBRAI.

Dickey was charged with interference with official acts (a simple misdemeanor) after allegedly refusing to comply with a deputy sheriff’s request to move along a rural road a “big party” of bicyclists were blocking.

The Republican senator has pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. His attorney has characterized the dispute that led to the arrest as a “misunderstanding.”

The day after learning about Dickey’s arrest, I requested relevant records from the Sac County Sheriff’s Office, including copies of body camera and squad car dash camera video from all deputy sheriffs who were present during the incident, as well as audio and video recordings from the jail where the senator was booked. I noted the high public interest in this case, because the defendant is a member of the Iowa legislature.

Responding on behalf of Sheriff Ken McClure, Sac County Attorney Ben Smith said he could not provide the information. He cited Iowa Code Section 22.7(5), a provision in the open records law that declares peace officer’s investigative reports are confidential.

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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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A good Iowa court ruling for public employees—and open records

Iowans who handle public records requests for government bodies gained more protection from possible retaliation on June 23, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that former Iowa Department of Public Health communications director Polly Carver-Kimm can proceed with both of her wrongful termination claims against the state.

Four justices affirmed a Polk County District Court decision, which allowed Carver-Kimm to allege under Iowa’s whistleblower statute that she was wrongly forced to resign in July 2020, and that Iowa’s open records law protected her activities when fulfilling records requests for the public health agency.

The Iowa Supreme Court did reverse one part of the lower court’s ruling. All seven justices determined that Governor Kim Reynolds and her former spokesperson Pat Garrett should be dismissed as individual defendants, because they lacked the “power to authorize or compel” Carver-Kimm’s termination.

But the impact of the majority decision in Carver-Kimm v. Reynolds extends far beyond the named defendants in one lawsuit.

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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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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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Exclusive: Iowa governor's office hides the ball on its own spending

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have agreed to increase the allocation for Governor Kim Reynolds’ office by more than 20 percent, even as many state agencies are receiving status quo budgets for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Tim Kraayenbrink acknowledged during floor debate on April 26 that Republicans do not know how the governor’s office plans to use an additional $500,000 standing appropriation for FY2024.

It was an extraordinary moment, but not a surprising one. For years, Reynolds’ staff have avoided disclosing how the governor’s office was covering expenses that greatly exceeded the funds allocated by the legislature, by nearly $900,000 in fiscal year 2020 and roughly the same amount in fiscal year 2021.

The Reynolds administration has also made it increasingly difficult to uncover details about the governor’s office spending through open records requests. Budget reports for fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 2021 through last June, were provided in a different format from previous years, concealing how much other state agencies provided to compensate Reynolds’ staffers. In response to a records request, the governor’s office claimed to have no invoices for such payments.

Nevertheless, documents obtained by Bleeding Heartland indicate that other state agencies contributed about $670,000 to cover salaries and benefits for Reynolds’ staffers during fiscal year 2022. The governor’s office was able to cover another $115,000 in expenses by continuing to understaff the Office of State-Federal Relations, for which other state agencies are charged a fixed fee.

In other words, even an additional $500,000 appropriation, bringing the governor’s office general fund budget to $2.8 million for the coming fiscal year, probably would not be enough to cover all expenses.

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Ag/natural resources budget holds surprises on public lands, water quality

Robin Opsahl covers the state legislature and politics for Iowa Capital Dispatch, where this article first appeared.

The Iowa Senate passed the agriculture and natural resources spending bill on April 25 with a provision Democrats said could limit the acquisition of public lands.

Senate File 558 passed the Senate 33-16, appropriating more than $43 million in funds for the state’s agriculture and natural resources departments. The funding figures were approved via amendment, as the Senate Appropriations Committee passed spending bills without numbers in early April.

Senate Democrats criticized Republicans for releasing the amendment filling the blanks on the bill the morning of its debate on the Senate floor, without allowing time for review or public comment. State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott said the bill’s provision on public lands is “very concerning.”

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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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Republicans shatter another Iowa Senate norm

Iowa Senate debate on a proposal to relax child labor regulations stalled late in the evening of April 17, after the Republican floor manager Adrian Dickey and Majority Leader Jack Whitver refused to answer a Democratic senator’s questions about an amendment published earlier in the day.

After hours of delay, the Senate resumed its work and approved the child labor bill (Senate File 542) shortly before 5:00 am on April 18, with Republicans Charlie McClintock and Jeff Taylor joining all Democrats in opposition.

The snag in last night’s proceedings is not limited to one controversial issue.

According to Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, Whitver told him Senate Republicans would no longer answer questions during floor debate, in light of a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision. That ruling (known as LS Power) has also made Iowa House Republicans more cautious about answering questions in public, a debate on a firearms bill revealed last week.

The majority party’s new approach could leave Iowa lawmakers less informed as they vote on complex legislation. Floor debate may be the only time Democrats can clarify their understanding of certain provisions, since managers’ amendments containing big changes sometime appear just hours before a vote on final passage. Over the next few weeks, Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their spending plans for fiscal year 2024 right before lengthy budget bills are bought to the chamber floor.

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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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Iowa Supreme Court rejects governor's attempt to dismiss open records claims

The Iowa Supreme Court has allowed an open records lawsuit against Governor Kim Reynolds to proceed. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice David May, the court said concerns about executive privilege or non-justiciable political questions did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing a claim that the governor’s office violated the open records law, known as Iowa Code Chapter 22, by failing to provide public records in a timely manner.

The court also confirmed that government officials and entities cannot sidestep the law’s requirements by ignoring records requests for an extended period. In addition, the decision clarified that electronic records (like other kinds of public records) must be produced within a reasonable time frame.

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Governor entered private Iowa Supreme Court area—without permission

Governor Kim Reynolds, her staff, and security detail used a non-public elevator and “walked down the secure hallway” where Iowa Supreme Court justices have private offices before attending the April 11 oral arguments in a major abortion-related case.

“Neither the justices, supreme court staff, or Judicial Branch Building security knew or gave permission for the governor or Iowa State Highway Patrol to access the supreme court’s non-public office space” at that time, according to Molly Kottmeyer, counsel to Chief Justice Susan Christensen.

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Iowa Senate Republicans hit new low for transparency

Iowa Republican lawmakers aren’t sticklers for tradition. They have used their trifecta to destroy a collective bargaining process that stood for more than four decades, and to overhaul a nearly 60-year-old judicial selection system on a partisan basis.

Iowa Senate Republicans have shattered norms in other ways. In 2021, they stopped participating in budget subcommittee meetings that had been a routine part of legislative work since at least the 1970s. Last year, they kicked all journalists off the chamber’s press bench, which had been designated for the news media for more than a century.

Senate Appropriations Committee members hit a new low for transparency last week. Led by chair Tim Kraayenbrink, Republicans advanced seven spending bills with blank spaces where dollar amounts and staffing numbers would normally be listed.

The unprecedented maneuver ensured that advocates, journalists, and Democratic senators will have no time to thoroughly scrutinize GOP spending plans before eventual votes on the Senate floor. Nor will members of the public have a chance to weigh in on how state funds will be spent during fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

Bleeding Heartland was unable to find any former Iowa legislator, lobbyist, or staffer who could remember anything resembling this year’s Senate budget process.

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Iowa AG halted Plan B, abortion payments for sexual assault victims

The Iowa Attorney General’s office is not currently covering the cost of emergency contraception or abortions for Iowans who are victims of rape or sexual assault, Natalie Krebs reported for Iowa Public Radio on April 7.

Iowa law requires the state’s victim compensation fund to pay for a sexual assault victim’s medical examination “for the purpose of gathering evidence,” as well as any treatment “for the purpose of preventing venereal disease.” Under longtime Attorney General Tom Miller, that fund also covered the cost of abortion services or Plan B, medication that prevents ovulation and therefore pregnancy if administered soon enough following unprotected sex.

In a statement provided to Iowa Public Radio, spokesperson Alyssa Brouillet said Attorney General Brenna Bird “is carefully evaluating whether this is an appropriate use of public funds” as part of a broader review of victim assistance programs. Payment of “pending claims will be delayed” until Bird completes her review.

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What's in, what's out of Iowa governor's big education policy bill

Both chambers of the Iowa legislature have approved versions of Governor Kim Reynolds’ so-called “parental empowerment” bill, which would rewrite many state policies related to public schools. The state Senate changed some parts of the bill before approving Senate File 496 along party lines on March 22.

The House adopted a more extensive rewrite before passing the bill on April 4, by 55 votes to 42. Six Republicans (Michael Bergan, Austin Harris, Chad Ingels, Megan Jones, Brian Lohse, and Hans Wilz) joined all 36 House Democrats to vote no.

This post walks through the provisions in the governor’s initial proposal (Senate Study Bill 1145), noting how each section changed during Iowa Senate debate, and again when House Republicans approved a 38-page amendment before sending the legislation back to the upper chamber.

Reynolds is likely to get most of what she asked for, but the bill that eventually lands on her desk may contain quite a few additional changes to Iowa Code.

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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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Iowa House backs improvement to open records process

UPDATE: On March 30, Iowa Senate leaders placed House File 350 on the “unfinished business” calendar, keeping it alive for the 2023 legislative session. However, House File 333 is dead for this year. Original post follows.

The Iowa House has unanimously approved a bill designed to improve the process for those seeking public records from government bodies.

House File 350 would add new language to the open records law, known as Chapter 22, requiring government bodies to “promptly acknowledge” requests for public records and provide contact information for the person designated to handle the request.

The records custodian would also have to provide an “approximate date” for producing the records and an estimate for the cost involved in compiling and reviewing them. Finally, the custodian would need to inform the person seeking records “of any expected delay” in providing them.

The Iowa Public Information Board, which is charged with enforcing the state’s sunshine laws, proposed the bill using language that closely follows one of the board’s advisory opinions.

The goal is to address a recurring problem: some government bodies ignore records requests for weeks or months, leaving members of the public with no idea when or whether they will receive the material. For instance, Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch and Bleeding Heartland guest author Rachel Bruns both experienced lengthy delays when seeking information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments in open records suit against governor

The Iowa Supreme Court will soon decide whether a lawsuit against Governor Kim Reynolds can proceed. The ruling may shed light on broader questions related to Iowa’s open records law (known as Chapter 22), such as what constitutes a refusal to provide a public record, how courts can determine whether a government entity’s delay was reasonable, and whether any legal doctrines shield the governor from that kind of judicial scrutiny.

I am among the plaintiffs who sued the governor, her office, and some of her staff in December 2021, citing failure to produce public records. About eighteen days after the ACLU of Iowa filed the suit on our behalf, the governor’s office provided most, but not all records responsive to requests I had submitted (in some cases more than a year earlier), as well as records responsive to requests submitted by Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch and Randy Evans of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

The state’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case. After Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin rejected the motion last May, the governor’s office appealed. Iowa Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on February 22. UPDATE: Video of the proceedings is online here.

A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would send the lawsuit back to a lower court, where a judge would consider the merits of our claims. A ruling in favor of the governor would mean the lower court could consider only whether the governor’s office properly withheld some records and redacted other documents released in January 2022—not whether Reynolds and her staff violated the law by failing to produce records in a timely manner.

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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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"These are the times that try men's souls"

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

In the responses to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was too predictable and shameful with her shouts of “Liar!”

More troubling to me was Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ flag-waving response: “America is the greatest country the world has ever known, because we are the freest country the world has ever known…”

For one thing, as Huckabee Sanders raved about our freedom, what came to my mind was how soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division had to protect nine Black students from a hate-filled mob in September 1957 as the children entered the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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USDA makes federal farm subsidies less transparent

Anne Schechinger is Senior Analyst of Economics for the Environmental Working Group. This report, which she co-authored with the EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber, first appeared on the EWG’s website. 

The Environmental Working Group’s newly updated Farm Subsidy Database shows that federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2021 totaled $478 billion. This huge amount of taxpayer money does almost nothing to help farmers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to adverse weather conditions caused by the climate crisis.

Our database update also shows that farm subsidy funding still goes to the largest and wealthiest farms, which can weather the climate crisis best, and that payments are getting less transparent, obscuring who has received almost $3.1 billion in payments. 

The Department of Agriculture’s subsidy funding could be used in much more useful ways that would help farmers in mitigating their emissions and becoming more resilient to hazardous weather conditions. Instead, it’s still a handout for rich landowners, city dwellers and family members of farmers. Even the USDA is benefiting, with one of its divisions receiving almost $350 million in payments.

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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 governor still ducking public questions

Three weeks after her re-election victory, Governor Kim Reynolds continues to avoid unscripted interactions with journalists. She has not held a news conference for 20 weeks, and her public appearances since the November election have not even built in “gaggles” where reporters could informally ask a few questions.

Reynolds cut off press conferences about four months before the 2018 midterm election as well, but during that year’s campaign, she participated in three televised debates and pledged to hold weekly news conferences if elected. Though she didn’t keep that promise, she provided several opportunities for reporters to ask about her plans soon after winning the 2018 race.

This year, Reynolds agreed to only one debate with her Democratic challenger and made no commitment regarding future news conferences. The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy has not replied to Bleeding Heartland’s questions about plans for media availabilities.

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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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Iowa governor not even close to keeping one 2018 campaign promise

“If elected, will you commit to weekly press conferences?” a moderator asked during the first debate between Iowa’s candidates for governor in October 2018. “I do it all the time,” Governor Kim Reynolds replied.

Asked again during that campaign’s third debate whether she would hold weekly press conferences, Reynolds claimed to have already made that commitment, adding, “If there’s any ambiguity, I will.”

Bleeding Heartland’s review of the governor’s public schedule reveals she has not come close to keeping that promise for most of the past four years. After a period of greater accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds held just four formal news conferences during the second half of 2021. More than 40 weeks into this year, she has held only ten news conferences, the last occurring on July 12.

Reporters with access have sometimes been able to ask the governor a few questions at a “gaggle” after a bill signing or another public event. But most weeks, Reynolds has not scheduled even an informal media availability.

Avoiding unscripted questions on camera gives Reynolds greater control over news coverage of her administration, and keeps awkward moments mostly out of public view.

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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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Ongoing transparency problems in Iowa's GOP-controlled government

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

When former Republican Governor Terry Branstad signed executive order 85 in March 2014, he stated, “transparency provides Iowans the necessary access to information to hold our government accountable and our Open Records Act is essential to ensuring openness,” adding, “Our administration has maintained a steadfast commitment to a transparent government.”

Branstad held weekly press briefings to answer journalists’ questions.

However, when Kim Reynolds became governor in 2017, a few months after Republicans gained full control of the legislature, transparency went out the window. Accessing many kinds of government data has become more difficult.

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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 board advises prompt responses to records requests

The Iowa Public Information Board is advising records custodians to acknowledge public records requests “within the first few business days of receipt,” and to provide information at that time on possible fees and a timeline for producing the records.

The board approved an advisory opinion on “Timeliness of responding to record requests” during an August 18 meeting, where members also voted not to proceed with draft administrative rules on open records requests.

Representatives of government bodies and some state legislators had pushed back against the draft rules, released in July. In particular, some objected that the board lacked authority to issue a rule stating custodians “must acknowledge” receipt of records requests within two business days. (Iowa’s open records law, known as Chapter 22, sets no such deadline.) Some public comments also argued it would be unworkable to require governments to acknowledge requests received through social media.

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Iowa campaign regulator may require attribution for political texts

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may soon clarify whether state laws on attribution statements apply to some kinds of political text messages, the board’s executive director Zach Goodrich told Bleeding Heartland.

Goodrich plans to draft an advisory opinion that would confirm when text messages are “electronic general public political advertising” subject to Iowa’s law requiring disclosure of who is responsible for express campaign advocacy.

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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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Exclusive: Iowa trooper crash investigation details remain secret

John Morrissey, a freelance writer in Des Moines, follows up on his coverage of a fatal accident last year.

More than nine months after the crash that killed on-duty Iowa State Trooper Ted Benda, the Iowa Department of Public Safety has nothing more to say about the cause of his death, or its implications. The department’s technical investigation is classified as confidential.

The initial public incident report seems to attribute the accident to the trooper’s driving behavior. That was likely a contributing factor, but was it the sole cause?

The five-month technical investigation into this crash may or may not have considered a poor headlight rating, or higher than average driver death rates for the vehicle involved, as contributing factors. It’s unclear because the technical investigation report will remain secret unless it is sought as part of several exceptions to state law, none of which allow public review.

In response to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries, the department offered no explanation of steps it might have taken since Benda’s death to reduce future risks, such as testing the headlight aim of its Dodge Chargers, or reviewing the crash statistics for its workhorse patrol vehicle, or even providing a “don’t veer for deer” reminder to troopers.

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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

UPDATE: The Iowa Public Information Board voted on August 18 not to proceed with these draft rules. They may look at open records rules again in the future but did not schedule a date for beginning the process. Original post follows.

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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Court rejects governor's motion to dismiss open records lawsuit

A Polk County District Court has rejected Governor Kim Reynolds’ attempt to have an open records lawsuit tossed without being considered on the merits. It was the third time in the past five months that a court denied the state’s motion to dismiss a suit claiming the Reynolds administration violated Iowa’s open records law.

I am among the plaintiffs who sued the governor and some of her staff in December over five unfulfilled requests I had submitted to her office, two requests submitted by Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch, and one request submitted by Randy Evans of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

About three weeks after the ACLU of Iowa filed the lawsuit on our behalf, the governor’s office provided most of the records we had requested (in some cases more than a year earlier). The state’s attorneys then sought to have the case dismissed as moot.

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George Flagg Parkway must be renamed

The Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and Des Moines People’s Town Hall co-authored this piece. Des Moines BLM can be reached through Facebook, Twitter, or email: contact@desmoinesblm.org. Des Moines People’s Town Hall can be reached through Facebook, Twitter, or the group’s website.

The City of Des Moines will soon begin plans to make major alterations to George Flagg Parkway on the south side. The road grade will be raised several feet above the floodplain. Part of the road will also be realigned to connect to SW 30th St to avoid flooding on this heavily-used truck route.

The investment of millions of taxpayer dollars into this project should not happen without conversation around the road’s current namesake. We created our petition to showcase public support for changing the name.

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Federal auditors reviewing CARES Act funds for governor's staff salaries

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing documentation provided to justify Governor Kim Reynolds’ use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to compensate staff in her office, Deputy Inspector General Richard Delmar told Bleeding Heartland on March 14.

The State Auditor’s office concluded in November and reaffirmed this month that Reynolds used $448,449 in CARES Act funds to pay part of the salaries and benefits of 21 permanent staffers between March and June 2020 in order to “cover a budget shortfall that was not a result of the pandemic.” State Auditor Rob Sand called on Reynolds to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund before the end of 2021. The governor’s office has insisted its use of COVID-19 relief funds for staff salaries was justified.

When the State Auditor’s office published its findings in November, Delmar told Bleeding Heartland his office “has not initiated an audit of the Governor’s Office salaries and awaits resolution of this matter between the Iowa State Auditor and the Governor’s Office.”

Asked this week about the impasse between Reynolds and state auditors, Delmar confirmed via email, “We have requested documentation of the uses from the State Auditor’s Office and are in the process of reviewing it.”

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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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Analysis: Five years of maternal health data in Iowa

Rachel Bruns is a volunteer advocate for quality maternal health care in Iowa.

I recently recounted how it took the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) 170 days to respond to my request for information on the total births, primary cesareans, total cesareans, and vaginal births after cesareans (VBACs) at Iowa hospitals. I eventually received aggregated five-year totals (2016 through 2020) for each birthing hospital in Iowa.

The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) of Central Iowa, where I serve as a volunteer chapter leader, has made the data available on our website. You can see it in table form below as Appendix 1. 

While I would have preferred for IDPH to provide the figures for a single year, as I requested, the compiled data still tells us a lot about the overuse of cesareans at several Iowa hospitals and the lack of VBAC access across much of the state.

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Iowa's annual financial report late again; agencies mum on why

For the second straight year, the state of Iowa missed a deadline for releasing a detailed report on state finances. Officials publicly acknowledged the delay last week but have not explained why the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report for fiscal year 2021 is not complete.

Staff at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which compiles this report, have not responded to five inquiries from Bleeding Heartland about the matter over the past two weeks. Staff at the Iowa Department of Management, which prepared a public notice about the late report, likewise ignored three attempts to clarify the source of the problem.

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Four thoughts about Mary Ann Hanusa's state auditor campaign

Former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa finally gave up her Congressional ambitions and announced on January 5 she’s running for state auditor. She won’t face any competition in the Republican primary, coming out of the gate with endorsements from Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Senator Joni Ernst.

Democrat Rob Sand won the 2018 state auditor’s race by 660,169 votes to 601,320 for GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman (50.9 percent to 46.4 percent). Turnout set a modern midterm record for Iowa that year. Participation could be far lower in 2022—perhaps 1.1 million to 1.2 million voters.

Whether Hanusa emerges as a strong challenger will become more clear as her campaign unfolds, but here are some initial thoughts.

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Iowa Senate kicks reporters out of chamber: Why it matters

During the five years of their trifecta, Republican lawmakers shredded a 43-year-old collective bargaining law and overhauled a judicial selection process that had been in place for nearly six decades.

Now Iowa Senate Republicans are tossing out more than a century of precedent by refusing to seat any journalists on the chamber’s press bench. For the session that begins on January 10, they are relegating reporters to public galleries far removed from the action.

Why should anyone care where reporters sit at the Iowa capitol? Take it from someone who has never been allowed to work on the press bench: losing access to the chamber will greatly hinder news gathering in the Senate.

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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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Court ruling good for open records, bad for Kim Reynolds

A Polk County District Court has rejected the state’s motion to dismiss part of Polly Carver-Kimm’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the state of Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds, her former communications director Pat Garrett, and several senior Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) officials.

Carver-Kimm handled press contacts and public records requests for the IDPH for thirteen years before being forced to resign in July 2020. She asserts that she was “stripped of her duties and later terminated after she made repeated efforts to comply with Iowa’s Open Records law (Chapter 22) by producing documents to local and national media regarding the State of Iowa’s response to the ongoing pandemic.”

District Court Judge Lawrence McLellan’s December 22 ruling (enclosed in full below) affirmed the importance of the open records law and rejected the state’s effort to remove Reynolds as a defendant in this case.

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Where things stand in the Iowa Democratic race for governor

Since State Auditor Rob Sand ruled out running for governor earlier this month, I’ve been meaning to catch up on the Democratic candidates who have been actively campaigning against Kim Reynolds: State Representative Ras Smith and Deidre DeJear, the 2018 nominee for secretary of state.

The field may not be set; many Democrats believe at least one other candidate will join the governor’s race early next year. Recent speculation has centered around State Representative Chris Hall. The six-term Iowa House Democrat from Sioux City, who is ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, has not announced whether he will seek re-election or run for higher office in 2022. Hall declined to comment for the record when I reached out to him shortly after Sand confirmed he’ll run for state auditor again.

This post will focus on bases of support for Smith and DeJear. We’ll know more about their capacity to run a strong statewide campaign after candidates disclose how much they’ve raised and spent this year. Those reports must be filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board by January 19.

Bleeding Heartland is unlikely to endorse any candidate before the primary, but I welcome guest commentaries advocating for any Democratic contenders. Those wanting to learn more about the options should tune in to the Iowa Unity Coalition’s gubernatorial candidate forum on January 22 in Des Moines; both Smith and DeJear have agreed to participate.

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We're suing Governor Reynolds over open records violations

The ACLU of Iowa filed suit on December 16 on behalf of three reporters and three media organizations over Governor Kim Reynolds’ long-standing failure to comply with Iowa’s open records law. The lawsuit cites five unfulfilled requests submitted by me, two submitted by Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch, and one submitted by Randy Evans of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

I’ve been seeking some of those records for more than a year. My oldest outstanding request, for video messages the governor may have recorded for meatpacking plant employees during the early weeks of the pandemic, dates to April 2020. Although Reynolds told members of the Iowa Capitol Press Association in January 2021 that she would commit to having her staff respond to open records requests “in a timely manner,” her office continues to stonewall.

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Governor will struggle to justify CARES Act funds for staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds used $448,449 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover a shortfall in her office budget without documenting that 21 of her staffers were “substantially dedicated” to the pandemic response, a state audit determined.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General asked state auditors in January 2021 to review whether the spending complied with rules governing the use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Bleeding Heartland was first to report in September 2020 on CARES Act payments supporting the governor’s permanent staffers, and reported exclusively last December on how documents were altered to make a “FY 2020 Shortfall” in the governor’s office budget appear to be “COVID-19 Personnel Costs.”

State Auditor Rob Sand warned the Reynolds administration in October 2020 that without adequate documentation, COVID-19 relief funds used to pay governor’s staff salaries might need to be repaid to the federal government. The report issued this week advised the governor to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund “for other eligible and supported uses prior to the December 31, 2021 deadline.”

The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters the office is “now working with Treasury to provide them documentation” to support the CARES Act spending.

That’s easier said than done.

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Health agency hiring temporary help with public records requests

The Iowa Department of Public Health is hiring a temporary staffer to assist public information officer Sarah Ekstrand in processing open records requests. The job listing says the new hire will help review and update the agency’s system for tracking requests, communicate with members of the public about the status of requests, help refine search terms, provide cost estimates, and review documents to see if they can be withheld as confidential.

The application deadline for the position was September 16. The temporary hire will be paid between $26.61 and $40.50 an hour, for at most 780 hours of work in the current fiscal year. That works out to about 20 weeks of full-time efforts devoted to processing records requests between now and June 30, 2022.

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ISU accounting problems delay many other state audits

Accounting problems at Iowa State University have delayed not only Iowa’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2020, but also dozens of annual reports on state government entities.

The ongoing issues at ISU have pushed other audit work months behind schedule, Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston explained during a 20-minute presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents on September 15. In addition, Gaston told the governing body for Iowa’s state universities the State Auditor’s office expects to issue an internal control finding to ISU. That rarely happens for the Regents institutions and indicates that ISU’s financial statements for FY2020 included inaccurate information.

ISU switched to the Workday computer system for accounting at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. The subsequent challenges raise questions about what will happen when most state government agencies transition to Workday for accounting, which is supposed to occur during the summer of 2022.

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Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

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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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Governor's office finally provides document requested in May

Governor Kim Reynolds’ senior legal counsel Michael Boal has belatedly provided a copy of former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri’s termination letter. On May 10, Bleeding Heartland asked the governor’s office and the Iowa Veterans Home for records showing the “documented reasons and rationale” for Oujiri’s dismissal, which Reynolds’ staff had recently confirmed.

Boal, who is the records custodian for the governor’s office, did not acknowledge receipt of the request at that time. He also ignored follow-up emails on June 30 and July 23, as did the governor’s chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol and spokesperson Pat Garrett, whom I copied on that correspondence. Staff at the veterans home likewise did not provide any responsive records.

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State universities hiding insider hires from public

In a reversal of longstanding practice, Iowa’s three state universities now refuse to reveal names of employees hired without open job searches, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on August 20.

The University of Iowa informed Miller in July that its Office of General Counsel, in consultation with the Iowa Board of Regents staff, “has determined that search waiver records are confidential personnel records […].” Staff for Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa subsequently declined to provide records related to employees hired without following the normal guidelines for public searches (such as advertising the position, forming a search committee, and interviewing candidates).

For years, Miller has periodically requested and received documents showing who was hired at each state university without a formal job search.

The about-face happened soon after former University of Iowa President’s Bruce Harreld’s departure, suggesting the university may be trying to conceal one or more cushy jobs Harreld secured for cronies on his way out.

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Governor facing two open records lawsuits

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office has flouted Iowa’s open records law since the earliest weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the governor and her senior legal counsel Michael Boal are facing two lawsuits filed by a Utah attorney seeking records related to Iowa’s pandemic response.

As first reported by Ryan Foley of the Associated Press, Suzette Rasmussen filed suit in Polk County District Court on August 12, after the governor’s office failed to provide correspondence about the Test Iowa program, first requested five months earlier.

One lawsuit stems from Rasmussen’s efforts to obtain “all correspondence regarding the Nomi Health COVID-19 contracts from March 1, 2020, through March 11, 2021.” The other request was for correspondence between Reynolds, her staff, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his staff regarding the test kits and contracts associated with NOMI Health. NOMI signed no-bid contracts to set up the Test Utah program and later Test Iowa.

Rasmussen sued the Iowa Department of Public Health in late July for failing to provide emails related to Test Iowa. She represents the Jittai group established by Paul Huntsman, who chairs the board of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Jittai has filed hundreds of records requests in Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, all of which signed no-bid contracts to create COVID-19 testing programs.

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Utah attorney sues state agency for Test Iowa records

An attorney representing the board chair of the Salt Lake Tribune has sued the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and its records custodian for failing to provide email correspondence related to the $26 million Test Iowa program.

Paul Huntsman confirmed on July 30 that the lawsuit Suzette Rasmussen filed in Polk County the previous day is part of his Jittai initiative. The Tribune’s board chair recently created Jittai in order “to learn more about TestUtah and its sister programs” created through similar no-bid contracts in Iowa, Tennessee, and Nebraska. Florida also implemented parts of the program.

According to the court filing, which is posted in full below, Rasmussen wrote to Sarah Ekstrand in March seeking “copies of all correspondence between the Iowa Department of Public Health, including but not limited to Interim Director Kelly Garcia, and the Iowa Governor’s Office, Utah state officials, Nebraska state officials, and Tennessee state officials regarding the Test Iowa Contract” from March 1, 2020 to March 11, 2021.

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Iowa Veterans Home leader overpaid for years before ouster

Staff in the governor’s office and Iowa Veterans Home declined to clarify why Governor Kim Reynolds fired the home’s Commandant Timon Oujiri in early May, and for months did not respond to public records requests related to Oujiri’s removal.

The mystery was revealed on July 29, when State Auditor Rob Sand released a special report showing Oujiri had received $105,412.85 in improper compensation since June 2019, including $90,027.20 of unauthorized gross wages.

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State medical director misleads on COVID-19 nursing home data

State Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati asserted that publicly available information about coronavirus cases in Iowa nursing homes is “pretty similar” to what was long disclosed on the state’s official COVID-19 website.

Pedati made the false claim during a wide-ranging interview with Andy Kopsa of Iowa Watch, conducted soon after the state switched from daily to weekly updates on coronavirus.iowa.gov. As part of the revamp, officials removed a page that had shown current outbreaks in long term care facilities.

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Vaccinated Iowa Veterans Home resident dies of COVID-19 (updated)

This story has been updated to note that a second resident infected in the latest outbreak has died.

Two of the seven Iowa Veterans Home residents who recently contracted COVID-19 have died, the home told relatives and guardians. The first resident who passed away “was in end of life care prior to testing positive” for coronavirus, an email sent on July 2 said. The message announcing the second death on July 4 did not provide further details.

All residents and staff affected by the latest coronavirus outbreak–the fifth at the state-run facility in Marshalltown–had been living or working in the Malloy 3 unit, which “remains in isolation.” Five of the residents who tested positive in late June returned from the facility’s COVID unit to Malloy 3 last week.

According to previous emails the facility sent to relatives and guardians, the residents who became infected in late June were all vaccinated for COVID-19.

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Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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Scott County deserves honesty and transparency, not John Maxwell

Lorraine Meriner explains why Scott County Supervisor John Maxwell’s possible violation of Iowa’s open meeting law must be formally investigated. -promoted by Laura Belin

On the morning of May 25, the Scott County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting to appoint a new county auditor to succeed Roxanna Moritz, who stepped down last month. According to Iowa’s open meetings law, if a majority of a governmental body’s members meet, their meeting must be publicly announced at least 24 hours in advance and must be held in “open session,” accessible to the public. In addition, meeting minutes must be made publicly available.

The law allows for closed sessions in some extenuating circumstances. Although the five supervisors met in open session on Tuesday, board vice chair John Maxwell’s contradictory recent comments to local reporters suggest that the board’s three Republican members violated open meeting law just days prior.

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Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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Regents pick highly qualified leader for University of Iowa

Mercifully, history did not repeat itself on April 30, when the Iowa Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson to be the next University of Iowa president. Wilson is supremely qualified for the job, having served for the last six years as the second-ranking administrator at the University of Illinois system, and in several leadership roles at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A news release enclosed in full below describes her relevant experience.

All four finalists considered this year were far more qualified than outgoing president Bruce Harreld was when the Regents picked him in 2015, following a search marred by favoritism and secret meetings that appeared to violate Iowa’s open meetings law.

Whereas the Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents after Harreld was hired, and the Daily Iowan newspaper ran the front-page headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED,” reaction to Wilson’s hiring was overwhelmingly positive from students and faculty. The Daily Iowan’s editorial board had endorsed either Wilson or Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel as the best choices to take the university forward.

I was pleasantly surprised the Regents tapped Wilson, even though she fired a football coach and an athletics director at Illinois over scandals including alleged mistreatment of student-athletes. During Harreld’s tenure, Iowa’s Athletics Director Gary Barta continued to receive raises and a contract extension even after costing the university millions of dollars in lawsuits over discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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In unprecedented move, Iowa Senate GOP bypasses budget subcommittees

Passing a budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 is the most important unfinished business for the Iowa legislature’s regular 2021 session. But House and Senate Republican leaders haven’t found consensus on spending targets for several large pieces of the roughly $8 billion state budget.

In a move without precedent in decades, Senate Republicans declined this this year to participate in the joint appropriations subcommittees where lawmakers review and discuss agency spending requests. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Appropriations Committee chair Tim Kraayenbrink did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about who made the decision or why.

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Unanswered questions about the $30,100 dinner with Kim Reynolds

Governor Kim Reynolds made headlines on April 8 by telling a conservative talk radio host Iowa had turned down a request to shelter some unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody. “This is not our problem. This is the president’s problem,” Reynolds explained.

“No one will ever confuse Reynolds with Gov. Robert Ray,” observed political cartoonist Brian Duffy. “This is surely the low point of the administration of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds,” noted longtime commentator Chuck Offenburger. Many other Iowans were disappointed or even “ashamed” by the governor’s lack of compassion.

But never let it be said that Reynolds lacks any charitable impulses. Thanks to her willingness to donate her time and the use of a state-owned building, the private Des Moines Christian School raised $30,100 at its True-Blue Gala auction last night.

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Exclusive: Bonuses push five Iowa agency heads above maximum pay

Governor Kim Reynolds has approved bonuses for at least five current state agency directors, allowing them to receive substantially more compensation than the top of the pay scale Iowa law sets for their positions.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services disclosed information about four agency leaders now receiving such bonuses in response to Bleeding Heartland’s public records request. The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Erin Jordan was first to report on Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Paul Trombino’s bonus, in an article published April 7.

This post discusses each official’s bonus pay in the order that they were awarded. The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to an April 7 email seeking to clarify whether any other heads of state departments are receiving greater compensation than the statutory maximum for their positions.

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Exclusive: Iowa approved CARES Act funds for governor's office software switch

UPDATE: Weeks after publication, state officials said this payment had been “inaccurately coded to the federal CARES program,” which was “anticipated” to cover this expense but did not. They said the database would be corrected to reflect the coding error. More details are at the end of this post. Original text follows.

Iowa’s Office of Chief Information Officer spent $39,512 in federal COVID-19 relief funds on a project to migrate computers in Governor Kim Reynolds’ office from Google suite to Microsoft Office 365.

Public databases showing expenditures from Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund do not indicate the governor’s office was the beneficiary of that November payment from OCIO to the vendor Insight Public Sector for unspecified “IT Outside Services.” Documents obtained through public records requests show the money covered the cost of the Google to Office 365 migration.

The governor’s office reimbursed OCIO for that expense in mid-December, days after the Reynolds administration was forced to backpedal on other COVID-19 funds spent on computer technology. Earlier the same month, Bleeding Heartland had sought records related to goods and services OCIO purchased on behalf of the governor’s office using money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett has not replied to inquiries about who authorized the initial spending on switching from Google to Office 365 or what funding source eventually covered the cost.

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Trump leaves Biden an odd "welcome mat"

Herb Strentz reflects on the transfer of power and the reaction from leading Iowa Republican politicians. -promoted by Laura Belin

While President Donald Trump engaged in no traditional “welcome” protocols to greet his successor at the White House, he left something even more important for President Joe Biden and for the sake of the nation. What Trump left us is a bestowal of relief, of trust, of hope and of opportunity that could serve us all well for years to come.

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Why oversight of Iowa's COVID-19 spending just got more important

Three state agencies that play important roles in Iowa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds will have new leadership in the coming weeks.

The turnover underscores the need for lawmakers, state and federal auditors, and the news media to keep a close watch on how Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration spends money Congress approved last year to address the coronavirus pandemic.

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What we've learned from Iowa's newly accurate COVID-19 death count

Since the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) changed how it counts and reports COVID-19 deaths on December 7, fatality numbers on the official website coronavirus.iowa.gov have become more accurate in several respects. The state’s dashboard no longer routinely lowballs how many Iowans have died in the pandemic. Instead, the IDPH numbers track closely with weekly figures published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

We now know that COVID-19 deaths accelerated in Iowa this fall even more rapidly than was previously apparent. Through the end of November alone, at least 3,308 Iowans had died in the pandemic. That number was more than 600 higher than the state website indicated before the IDPH began implementing the new counting method.

Two drawbacks have accompanied this important policy change. First, there is a greater lag time between when an Iowan dies and when that fatality tends to appear on the dashboard. In addition, updates to the state website have become more erratic, with IDPH staff adding few or no deaths on some days, and more than 100 deaths on others.

Now more than ever, media organizations that report COVID-19 statistics daily must put those numbers in context. Anyone following news on the pandemic needs to understand that changing totals from one day to the next on the IDPH website do not reflect how many Iowans died of COVID-19 during the previous 24 hours.

That said, the more accurate counting method is bringing the horrifying scale of the pandemic into focus.

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Vaccine council's secrecy rests on questionable reading of Iowa law

Iowa’s new Infectious Disease Advisory Council will continue to meet behind closed doors, Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) interim Director Kelly Garcia confirmed on December 16. Garcia established the council earlier this month, naming 25 “external and internal subject matter experts” to help the agency develop guidelines for allocating limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

Iowans are unable to observe council members as they consider how to balance the needs of disparate groups at high risk from the novel coronavirus. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on December 16 that the council “has met twice this month without giving prior notice to the public, publishing an agenda or allowing the public to participate as required by the Iowa Open Meetings Act.”

The IDPH maintains that Iowa Code Chapter 21 does not apply to an advisory council created by a state agency. But not every expert on the law concurs.

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Exclusive: Payment scheme concealed CARES Act funds for governor's staff

Federal funds used to cover salaries and benefits for Governor Kim Reynolds’ staffers were routed through the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, rather than going directly to the governor’s office.

Because of the unique arrangement, state agencies’ databases and published reports on expenditures from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act do not reveal that any funding supported the governor’s office. Instead, some show allocations from Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to Homeland Security, from which $448,449 was spent on “COVID Staffing” or “State Government COVID Staffing.”

That’s the exact dollar amount Reynolds approved to pay permanent employees on her staff for part of their work during the last three and a half months of the 2020 fiscal year. Other agencies that had staff working on the pandemic response from the State Emergency Operations Center, such as the Iowa Department of Public Health, did not receive CARES Act funding through the same indirect route.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett and chief of staff Sara Craig Gongol did not respond to six inquiries over a three-week period about how these payments were made and recorded.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Iowa's COVID-19 website rewrites history every day

If you visit coronavirus.iowa.gov and view the graphs on the “case counts” page, you might expect to learn how many Iowans were tested for COVID-19 on any given day, and how many of those tests came back positive or negative.

You would be wrong.

Every day, records of hundreds or thousands of old tests disappear from the website. Consequently, it is impossible to reconstruct an accurate picture of Iowa’s testing numbers or positivity rates, either statewide or at a county level.

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State won't clarify how Iowa counts COVID-19 deaths

This project started with the goal of clearing up some confusion surrounding Iowa’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) death statistics.

Specifically, I wanted to debunk a conspiracy theory making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

I also planned to explain why the number of deaths for a given day on the state’s official website (coronavirus.iowa.gov) didn’t always match the number of new deaths that had been announced on that date. Many readers had asked about the discrepancy.

I was almost ready to publish in early July, but I needed to nail down one detail. Did the total fatalities on the state website (793 at this writing) reflect all of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control describes as “multiple cause” COVID-19 deaths, or only what the CDC labels “underlying cause” deaths?

After asking that question more than half a dozen times over two and a half weeks, I still haven’t received an answer. So much for the Iowa Department of Public Health’s supposed “transparency” and “constant communication with media” on the pandemic.

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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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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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Iowans deserve more transparency to help stop COVID-19

Democratic State Senator Janet Petersen is the Iowa Senate minority leader. -promoted by Laura Belin

When trouble hits our state, Iowans want leaders who talk straight and make sure all Iowans can be part of the solution.

That’s true when we are helping fellow Iowans recover from flooding, tornados and other natural disasters. And it’s certainly true of our efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

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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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