Government

Subpoena not enough - public information board won't provide records related to police shooting of Burlington woman

Closed meetings dealt with police shooting of Burlington woman

Autumn Steele

Died Jan. 6, 2015
Autumn Steele Died Jan. 6, 2015

The Iowa Public Information Board voted Thursday to refuse to provide minutes and recordings from two closed-session meetings to the state ombudsman, despite an ombudsman subpoena.

Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman issued a subpoena to the board Nov. 2, saying her office needed the minutes and audio recordings from meetings July 20 and Aug. 25 to determine whether the board violated Iowa’s open meetings law by holding those meetings behind closed doors.

The board voted 5-1 Thursday to forward a three-page letter to Hirshman disagreeing with her interpretation of the law and refusing to provide the requested records.

Rick Morain, a former newspaper editor and publisher from Jefferson, voted against sending the letter. Three other board members were not present.

The board argues Hirshman or her staff have had enough informal conversations with individual board members that she doesn’t need the recordings to investigate an alleged violation of state open meetings law. But if Hirschman wants a second opinion, she’s welcome to take the matter to a district court judge, the letter states.

“The Open Meetings law has provided for in camera review by a court to determine whether closed session tapes and minutes should be disclosed to parties in an enforcement action under Chapter 21,” the letter states. In camera means a judge could review the meeting minutes and audio recording in private, without the public or media knowing the contents.

The ombudsman’s office launched an investigation after a complaint was filed about the board’s Aug. 25 meeting.

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Following a 50-minute closed session, the board voted unanimously to proceed in accordance with what members talked about in the private meeting — without providing specifics of what was discussed.

The board has said the meeting concerned 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 by not releasing information about the 2015 fatal shooting of Autumn Steele by a Burlington police officer.

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. Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, has criticized the board — formed to improve government transparency — for not being transparent.

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

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