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The Iowa Department of Public Health, already fighting formal complaints claiming it has repeatedly violated Iowa’s open records law, is now being sued over access to records related to a $26 million no-bid contract.
Suzette Rasmussen, a lawyer from Draper, Utah, is suing the Iowa Department of Public Health and its spokesperson, Sarah Ekstrand. The lawsuit is based on an April 2020 decision by the state to award a $26 million no-bid contract to the Utah companies Nomi Health, Domo, Qualtrics and Co-Diagnostics to run a COVID-19 testing program the state dubbed the Test Iowa Initiative.
On March 11, Rasmussen sent an Open Records Law request to Ekstrand, requesting copies of correspondence during the previous 12 months between the agency and the office of Gov. Kim Reynolds and state officials in Utah, Nebraska and Tennessee regarding the Test Iowa contract.
One month after the request was made, on April 14, Ekstrand allegedly told Rasmussen she anticipated having the request fulfilled within five days. On May 26, Ekstrand allegedly sent Rasmussen an email confirming that she wanted it to include “IDPH communications regarding the NOMI Health contract” from March 2020 to March 2021.
On May 28, Rasmussen confirmed the nature of the request and specified the search terms to be used in pulling electronic copies of the records. Rasmussen says she followed up with several emails to Ekstrand regarding the status of her request, including emails she sent June 8 and July 14.
On July 20, Ekstrand allegedly indicated the records were in final review and she anticipated being able to release them soon. The records were not provided.
Rasmussen is now asking the court to enter a judgment in her favor and against the state Public Health Department and Ekstrand for violating the open records law. She is also seeking injunctive relief requiring the state to comply with the law and turn over the records. Rasmussen is also asking the court to order the state to pay her costs, including her attorneys’ fees.
Ekstrand and department officials did not respond when asked for comment Friday.
Rasmussen recently sued the governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, for allegedly delaying access to records tied to Utah’s COVID-19 response. That lawsuit, filed July 2, alleges that the open-records requests Rasmussen filed between mid-March and mid-May are still unfulfilled.
Rasmussen told the Salt Lake Tribune she filed the suit on behalf of a client. Paul Huntsman of Utah recently acknowledged he is that client and is now backing a multistate effort to access government records related to COVID-19. Huntsman is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr., whom Cox defeated in last year’s Republican primary.
This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.