This is Sunshine Week — an annual call for transparent and open government. A yearly reminder that public officials must conduct the public’s business in full public view.
And even though, again this year, the atmosphere can only be described as partly cloudy, at best, we also want to call out some good news.
We’d like to thank the overwhelming majority of the state’s public school districts that complied with a recent open records request in a way that was timely and affordable.
This spring, The Gazette, in collaboration with other Iowa newspapers, asked districts for an electronic copy of their superintendent’s 2015-16 contract, date of hire and list of any other perks not included in the contract.
The request was part of a Sunshine Week project intended to be at once a way to collect data for a news story and also a test of the districts’ willingness to provide the public information.
More than 90 percent of the 336 school districts in Iowa complied with the open records request. Nearly all districts did so without charging for the information. Of the four that did charge, none charged more than $30.
Obviously, we would have preferred 100 percent compliance with the law. Even so, we’re going to count the high rate of return as a win on the side of openness. A bright spot in a year that included too many instances of governmental bodies acting against the spirit of Iowa’s sunshine laws.
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Iowa law requires governmental bodies to make public records available for examination at no charge when any member of the public requests access. The law does allow public bodies to charge requesters for the actual cost of any copies of those records, and to charge “reasonable fees” for the work involved in providing that access.
Sometimes, those fees can be prohibitively expensive, especially for individuals. We’re glad to report that wasn’t true in this case.
By making public records available quickly and at minimal cost, school districts — and other governmental bodies — show their continued commitment to openness, and to the communities they serve.
• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; email@example.com