Ombudsman subpoenas Public Information Board records

Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman said her office needs audio recordings and minutes to determine if board violated open meetings law

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The state ombudsman’s office has issued a subpoena requiring the Iowa Public Information Board to turn over audio recordings and minutes from two closed-session meetings, asserting ombudsman investigators need those records to determine if the board violated state open meetings law.

“The board has chosen to retain evidence that is necessary for my office to conduct a thorough investigation,” Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman wrote a Nov. 2 letter to the board.

The letter, released Tuesday, is included on the board’s agenda for a meeting Thursday in Des Moines.

The subpoena orders the board to turn over to the Ombudsman’s office by Nov. 30 audio recordings and minutes from closed-session meetings July 20 and Aug. 25.

Bert Dalmer, senior assistant ombudsman, asked for the records in person Sept. 21, but the board voted 7-2 to withhold the recordings. The board said they were talking with their attorney about ongoing litigation during a closed session Aug. 25 and they did not want to waive their attorney-client privilege.

Hirschman’s Nov. 2 letter said the board misapplied attorney-client privilege and at least partially waived that right by telling Hirschman and others parts of what occurred in those closed-door meetings.

Board members said Sept. 21 they were concerned if they turned over their records to the ombudsman those records could be viewed by others, including lawmakers or the governor.

This wouldn’t happen, Hirshman said in her Nov. 2 letter.

“Those entities have access to my office’s records and files, but not to confidential files,” she wrote, adding the Iowa Department of Human Services has shared confidential records with the ombudsman’s office for years without legislators or the governor’s office seeking access to the documents.

The ombudsman’s office is investigating the board’s Aug. 25 vote following a closed session to discuss a high-profile legal case in which the board has charged the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Burlington Police Department with breaking state public records law.

The law enforcement agencies have refused to release information about a 2015 fatal police shooting.

Following the 50-minute closed session, the board voted unanimously to proceed in accordance with what they talked about in the private meeting — without describing what was discussed.

Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans in August called the move a “sadly laughable example of transparency” by a board created to enforce open government laws.

Board President Mary Ungs-Sogaard, a Dyersville newspaper publisher, said the board did not make any decisions in the closed session, so the vote didn’t indicate a specific action that would be taken.

The board, created in 2012, has authority to levy civil penalties of up to $2,500 for a knowing violation of public records or public meetings laws. The two members who voted against the motion to withhold the recording from the ombudsman’s office were Ungs-Sogaard and Rick Morain, of Jefferson — both media representatives on the board.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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