Staff Editorial

Iowa public insurance program is flouting transparency

An Iowa state flag is seen in the senate chambers at the capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/
An Iowa state flag is seen in the senate chambers at the capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

There is a serious problem when the public’s business is discussed out of the public’s view.

The Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, or ICAP, is a government insurance program that proudly proclaims it is owned and operated by nearly 800 public entities in Iowa, including cities, counties, intragovernmental entities, transit authorities, county fair boards and more.

The organization is officially endorsed by the League of Cities and Association of Counties. Its board of directors is composed of representatives from local governments.

By any reasonable standard, ICAP is a public entity, wholly funded by and meant to serve the public. Yet contrary to the spirit of Iowa’s open records law, the group’s leaders are flouting public scrutiny over their finances.

Last month, ICAP filed a petition in District Court to challenge the state auditor’s authority to audit the entity’s finances. They argue the auditor’s office — which is tasked with ensuring government officials use taxpayer money as intended — does not have the power to compel disclosure of documents ICAP has not made publicly available.

State Auditor Rob Sand started looking into ICAP’s finances last year after the Associated Press reported that the board of directors holds meetings at out-of-state vacation resorts. Those locations are hardly accessible to Iowa taxpayers and government workers who are served by the program, which raises serious questions about transparent governance. ICAP has resisted Sand’s inquiry.

In a September 2019 letter to ICAP members, board President Jody Smith of West Des Moines wrote that the organization’s expense policy is consistent with industry standards and spending is reviewed by board members. Smith assured his constituents that board members “have a long history of service and good standing” and they “value transparency.”

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Those are laudable ideals, but they are not reflected in ICAP’s actions. Even if officials disagree that they are required to disclose the documents sought by Sand, there certainly is nothing barring them from doing so. If they really valued transparency, they would practice it, instead of launching a publicly funded legal fight.

The courts will decide if Iowa’s government insurance pool is a governmental subdivision, and therefore subject to open records law. Regardless of the outcome, ICAP leaders’ evasiveness has badly bruised their reputation among the public.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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