Governor Branstad says his administration is taking steps to improve government transparency, although the governor complains some requests of public records from his office are merely research for future lawsuits against him.
“I’m not a novice and I understand politics a little bit, anyway, and so I understand that when the Democratic Party is requesting something that there may be some political implications to that,” Branstad says. “But nevertheless they have a right, just as any other citizen does, to get that information.”
All the public records requests filed with the governor’s office since Branstad took office in January are now posted on-line. There’s a list of the documents Branstad’s staff was asked to release, a list of documents provided and a notation of what may have been charged to the person or group asking for the records. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says that is “vastly more information” about open records requests than has been available in the past.
“We are also pleased to report that of all the requests made, 90 percent were completed without charges for staff review time and the average time for completion was 17 calendar days,” Reynolds says. “We have made ourselves available to the public and the press on a regular basis because we believe that transparent government is good government.”
For several years, there’s been proposal in the legislature to either create a new state agency or designate staff in an already existing state agency to police open records and open meetings laws, but it has failed to clear both the House and Senate. Republicans this past spring described the proposal as an expensive solution to address a non-existent problem, but Branstad supports the move.
“We want to do it in the most efficient and economical way,” Branstad says. “We certainly don’t want a big bureaucracy or a lot of costs, but we do want a place where people can go where they can get answers.”
Bill Monroe, the former chief executive of the Iowa Newspaper Association, says he used to field calls from Iowans who had questions about whether a government record was public, or whether their local government had followed the standards of the state’s open meetings law.
“We’re looking for an agency or a person in an agency that can quickly answer questions for a local government official who calls and says, ‘I’ve had a request to make this record public. Is it a public record or not?'” Monroe says. “There’s not a lot of expertise in that area on the local government level.”
Monroe is now a volunteer advisor to Governor Branstad on open meetings and open records issues.
The Iowa Democratic Party has criticized Branstad’s administration for failing to quickly fulfill its request for records about Branstad’s travels around the state to “town hall” meetings which were featured on Branstad’s campaign website.
“Given the Branstad administration’s mishandling of open records request, this site is an important step towards transparency and accountability,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said in a written statement. “We’re pleased that Governor Branstad and his staff were able to take the initial work of the Iowa Democratic Party’s investigation and provide it as a free resource to all Iowans.”