ARTICLE

Iowa Public Information Board to wait before asking lawmakers to tweak law

Expanding the 2012 law to cover advisory panels and task forces proposed

After a quick discussion of changes they would like, members of the three-month-old Iowa Public Information Board decided to wait at least a year before asking lawmakers to tweak the year-old legislation that created it.

Executive Director Keith Luchtel proposed expanding the 2012 law to cover advisory panels and task forces established to “gather information concerning public policy issues.” Iowa courts have ruled those panels now are not covered.

“That could open a can of worms,” member Peggy Weitl, Carroll County treasurer, said Thursday at the board’s meeting in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber in Iowa City. “We have a difficult time getting people to serve on task forces now.”

Board member Suzan Stewart of Sioux City, an attorney for MidAmerican Energy Company, suggested adding “walking quorums” -- a series of meetings, phone calls or other means of communication used by public officials to discuss issues without convening a meeting in an effort to evade the requirements of open meetings laws.

However, Stewart then recommended the board hold off on seeking legislative changes.

“We’ve only been in business for two-plus months,” she said. “Maybe we need to step back and wait a year to see if these things re-occur.”

University of Iowa law professor Arthur Bonfield, the godfather of Iowa’s open meetings and public records law, applauded the decision. Asking the Legislature to tweak the law in 2014 may be too soon, he said, noting that public records and open meetings issues are among “the most contentious subjects that comes before Legislature.”

“You just started. When people come to realize there is a place they can go with these problems, you’ll hear of more problems,” Bonfield said.

Areas of the law he said need attention are the 65 exemptions to open meetings and public records, and a section that allows records labeled “confidential” to be released at the discretion of the custodian of the records.

Some of the exemptions should be maintained, Bonfield said, “but freedom of speech is worthless without access to what’s going on in government.”

The board will meet again at 2 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Wallace Building in Des Moines. For more, visit https://ipib.iowa.gov/.Comments: (319 398-8375; james.lynch@sourcemedia.net