Survey: Iowans favor more access to public records, meetings

803 Iowans participated in a telephone poll conducted from Sept.19-22

The House room in the Des Moines Capitol Building on March 9, 2001. (Sourcemedia Group)
The House room in the Des Moines Capitol Building on March 9, 2001. (Sourcemedia Group)

Two of three Iowans favor creating a state government board to handle citizen complaints about violations of Public Records and Open Meetings laws, according to statewide survey results released Wednesday.

The survey found most Iowans know little about the state’s Public Records and Open Meetings laws, but nevertheless value more openness than is practiced.

The poll results reveal “an overwhelming amount of support from people for open and transparent government,” said Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which commissioned the poll.

“The citizens get it,” she said. “They understand why this is such a valuable part of our way of life and are supportive of any way to make government more transparent.”

The telephone poll was conducted from Sept. 19-22 by Selzer & Co. of West Des Moines. Of those reached on their landlines and cell phones, 803 agreed to complete the survey by answering 18 questions about open government and additional demographic questions, Richardson said.

Key findings included:

- Sixty-seven percent of participants favor creation of a board to handle citizen complaints about access to meetings and records.

- Sixty-nine percent said they know little or nothing about the state’s open government laws. Only 5 percent expressed a great deal of familiarity with the laws.

- Eighty-five percent expressed confidence the purpose of the laws is to provide access to all citizens, not just the news media.

- Sixty-three percent said government should do more to open meetings and make records accessible.

- Ninety-six percent said public officials’ expense reports should be available.

- Ninety percent said list of candidates under consideration for major state and local government jobs should be available.

- Only about one-third (36 percent and 32 percent, respectively) favored public availability of autopsy reports and the names of crime victims.

An Iowa Public Information Board would provide a place to which citizens, government officials and the media could direct questions about access, said Chris Mudge, executive director of the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Her organization has proposed creation of such a board for at least five years. The newspaper group and the freedom of information council have called for the board to have enforcement powers.

“The fact 67 percent of Iowans see that as something they would support I view as very positive,” said Mudge.

Iowans reacted strongly and favorably to the idea their tax dollars are the price of admission to government meetings and their ticket to review government records, pollsters concluded.

Those surveyed were “little concerned that requiring document requesters to pay the costs of copies imposes any barrier to access,” the poll found. “Rather they see charging requesters as a legitimate way for government offices to recover the costs of providing copies.”

Iowa’s Public Records law restricts copying fees to actual cost of providing the service.Overall, “Iowans seek more openness even at the expense of privacy of government employees and officials, more effort to make access to government records and meetings easier and more opportunities to have input into government decisions,” the polling company concluded.

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