There are twice as many Republicans as Democrats on the Iowa Public Information Board, even with Gov. Terry Branstad appointing a Democrat Monday.
Branstad appointed Waukee Mayor Bill Peard, a Democrat, and re-appointed Andy McKean, an Anamosa Republican, to the board created in 2012 to enforce Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws. There are still two vacancies, one of whichmust be a Democrat or Independent to comply with Iowa law. Bothmust be women.
“No more than half the board plus one can be from the same party.” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “That is true for gender as well as politics. Part of the challenge the governor has is finding people of the right gender who meet the political balancing test.”
The board’s makeup is shifting in the lead-up to an Oct. 21 contested hearing over whether the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Burlington Police Department broke public records law by refusing to release body camera video and other records about a 2015 officer-involved shooting.
Former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick, working as prosecutor for the board, charged the law enforcement agencies May 27 with failure to provide open records to the Burlington Hawk Eye and the family of Autumn Steele, who was accidentally shot and killed Jan. 6, 2015, by Burlington Police Officer Jesse Hill.
“The Burlington case is going to be the first real test of whether there are teeth in the law,” Evans said.
Administrative Law Judge Karen Doland is to hear the case and render an opinion to the board, which can accept or reject it. The board has authority to force the agencies to turn over the records and impose fines.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
When Branstad appointed Gary Mohr, of Bettendorf, to serve on the board in 2012, Mohr was an independent. Mohr switched to Republican in 2015, the Scott County Auditor reported, which was the same year Mohr announced he would run for House District 94.
McKean also is running for office — House District 58. If elected, both Mohr and McKeen would likely resign their board seats, Branstad Spokesman Ben Hammes said.
Tony Gaughan, of West Des Moines, had been a Republican until he changed his party affiliation to Independent in September 2015, Hammes said.
In addition to political and gender balance, the board may have no more than two media representatives or no more than two representatives from government agencies, such as cities, counties or school districts. New appointments are subject to Iowa Senate approval.
Kathleen Richardson, former Freedom of Information Council leader who served on the board until earlier this year, said political affiliation hasn’t been a predictor of how members vote.
“Devotion to open government cuts across the political spectrum, and I was always very confident that my fellow ‘founding’ members of the public information board shared my interest in ensuring open and accountable government,” Richardson said.
Meet the members
Here is a look at the current members of the Iowa Public Information Board. The nine-member board has two vacancies at this time.
• Tony Gaughan, West Des Moines Independent — Public Representative
• Keith Luchtel, Clive Republican — Media Representative
• Jo Martin, Spirit Lake Democrat — Media Representative
• Andy McKean, Anamosa Republican — Public Representative
• Gary Mohrz, Bettendorf Republican — Government Representative
• Suzan Stewart, Sioux City Republican — Public Representative
• Bill Peard, Waukee Democrat — Government Representative