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Several Iowa media organizations and the ACLU of Iowa are suing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and her staff, charging they broke Iowa’s open records law by failing to provide records about the Iowa State Patrol’s border deployment, private fundraising at the governor’s residence and Reynolds’ messages to meatpacking plant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other requests.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Polk County District Court, asks a judge to compel Reynolds to turn over the records — some more than a year overdue — and comply with Iowa Code Chapter 22.
“We all wish this action today was not necessary, but we are long past the point when any delay could conceivably be seen as reasonable,” Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“In times of challenge like these, it’s even more important than ever than ever that reporters are able to do their work,” she said.
The plaintiffs in the case are Laura Belin and her news organization, Bleeding Heartland; Clark Kauffman and his news organization, the Iowa Capital Dispatch; and Randy Evans and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which he leads as executive director.
The Freedom of Information Council represents news outlets across the state, including The Gazette.
One of the neglected records requests cited in the lawsuit is a July 7 request The Gazette sent to the governor’s office seeking emails, communications or contracts about the State Patrol’s deployment to the U.S. border with Mexico. The governor’s office never provided any records related to this request.
“She has acted as if the public records law does not apply to her,” Evans said, “as if there’s an asterisk in this statute that says the governor is excused from having to comply with that law’s requirements if it’s inconvenient or if it might prove to be embarrassing.”
Belin is seeking the following records from the governor’s office:
- Video messages the governor may have recorded for meatpacking plant employees during the early weeks of the pandemic.
- Communications asking the governor to sign or veto certain legislation.
- Records of donations for the use of Terrace Hill for events for private organizations.
In the news conference, Belin said she kept her requests narrow to make them easier and faster to fulfill, but the requests went unanswered.
“Iowa’s Open Records law was written so Iowa politicians could not do this kind of stonewalling,” she said.
Kauffman requested information about a Terrace Hill fundraiser and communications regarding the former director of the Iowa Veterans Home, who was terminated after allegedly receiving salary overpayments. The facts regarding the basis for his termination are disputed.
In that case, a few but not all of the records Kauffman requested were provided, the ACLU reported.
Bettis Austen said the ACLU and other plaintiffs decided to take the governor’s office to court rather than file a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board, which enforces Chapter 21 and Chapter 22, but has only fined violators twice in more than eight years, the Des Moines Register reported last month.
The governor’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
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