The following are statements from the ACLU of Iowa and three of the clients in our open records lawsuit regarding Gov. Kim Reynold's office refusing to make available clearly public records regarding the covid pandemic for over a year. Details here.
The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in our lawsuit on February 22, 2023. These statements were released after those arguments.
ACLU of Iowa Staff Attorney
"As you know, this morning we presented oral arguments to the Iowa Supreme Court in our open records lawsuit on behalf of prominent Iowa reporters and media groups, whose reporting about our state government is relied on by a wide Iowa readership.
"Our clients have all experienced repeated and delayed stonewalling from the governor's office after submitting formal requests for information regarding the state's COVID-19 response and other matters. The delays stretched into months and then well past a year. During that time, these journalists repeatedly and politely inquired about their pending requests, and unfortunately, were often simply ignored.
"After we sued, it took them only 18 days to provide almost all the missing documents to our clients and to every other reporter with pending open records requests. There was no lawful justification to ignore the requests for 18 months.
"The documents were clearly open records and important information for the public to know. In fact, in most cases, the Governor’s Office was the only source of the information sought. Without it, the public would have no way of knowing the information about what our state government was doing.
"We're simply asking the Court to uphold the district court’s decision to allow our case to move forward.
"The Governor’s Office is arguing that our case should be dismissed, saying that the Governor can’t be sued to enforce open records law. But the Governor's Office should not be above the law. Elected officials need to be held accountable and follow the laws our legislature put into place to make sure the public is informed."
Iowa Freedom of Information Council
"The people of Iowa should hope the Supreme Court concludes that Iowa’s governor is not able to sidestep the state law that requires all state and local government officials to comply in a timely manner with requests for public records.
"That obligation was spelled out by the Legislature when lawmakers wrote the records law close to 50 years ago. The law states that “free and open examination of public records is generally in the public interest even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others.”
"The Iowa Freedom of Information Council believes lawmakers meant what they said back then. The Iowa Supreme Court has long recognized that the purpose of the law is “to open the doors of government to public scrutiny [and] to prevent government from secreting its decision-making activities from the public, on whose behalf it is its duty to act.”
"It goes without saying that duty was vitally important during the COVID pandemic, the worst health crisis to face Iowa in a century. It is important for people to know that all records involved in this lawsuit were electronic and did not require in-person communication with the requesters.
"The public records law has been amended numerous times since it was written. Each of those amendments was adopted by the Legislature and signed by the governor in office then. None of those governors, including Gov. Reynolds, ever asked lawmakers to amend the law to remove the Governor’s Office from having to comply with public records requests. None of the past governors ever expressed concern that such requests created an unwarranted intrusion on their ability to govern.
"There is no asterisk in the public records law that says the governor does not have to comply with the statute if it would be inconvenient or embarrassing or if it would create political headaches for her. The Iowa FOI Council hopes the Supreme Court sends our lawsuit back to the district court for the governor to defend her staff’s handling of these requests for records --- if noncompliance with the law for 18 months is defensible. No other custodian of government records in Iowa would be allowed to brush aside the public records law, nor should the governor."
Bleeding Heartland Blog
"The pandemic placed unusual demands on many people, and we understood it might take state officials a little longer to process records requests. But the delays continued for many months, long after Gov. Reynolds had ordered state government staff back to their offices and encouraged Iowans to resume their normal lives.
"Some of the records we sought were related to Iowa's pandemic response. Others concerned different matters of public interest, such as the use of state funds or efforts to influence government decisions. This case is important not only because of the specific documents we were seeking, but because of the principle that no one is above the law.
"The Governor's Office sets the tone for the rest of state government. When the Governor's staff ignore records requests for months on end, sometimes for more than a year, it sends a message that complying with the open records law is optional. Unfortunately, other state agencies have sometimes followed that lead, delaying for months before providing documents responsive to requests, even narrowly focused ones. "
The Iowa Capital Dispatch
"When public officials deny or ignore requests for public records, attention is often focused on journalists who are trying to access information as part of their jobs. But it's not only journalists who are affected when public records laws are not enforced. It's average Iowans, including Iowa voters, who are being shut out of information about the government that is supported by their tax dollars.
"Most of the time, Iowans are relying on news media to provide that information, but not always. Engaged citizens also run into brick walls when they try to access information about their local governments, their school boards, or their law enforcement agencies. All we are asking the court to do is enforce Iowa's law that ensures access to public documents, not only for ourselves but for all of Iowa's citizens."