U of I president ignores FOI Council request

University of Iowa President J. Bruce Harreld has failed to respond to a letter from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council about the university’s refusal to release documents related to work done for the university by a company owned by former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn.

On December 30, FOI Council Executive Director Randy Evans wrote to Harreld after an Associated Press article disclosed that Strawn’s company had received contracts worth about $320,000 without competitive bids. The contracts were for public opinion polling, focus groups and social media outreach efforts for the university.

The Associated Press reported that the university was keeping the documents secret under a section of Iowa’s open records law that allows for confidentiality if release would serve “no public purpose.”

The section cited by the university is designed to protect documents generated by private entities that are regulated by or must disclose reports to government where the release by the government agencies would give advantage to competitors of the private entities without serving any public purpose. The section of the law was not designed to cover documents produced for the government at public expense.

The Iowa FOI Council said in its letter to Harreld:

“The University of Iowa spent $320,000 on this research and outreach efforts. The people of Iowa have a right to see how the university is spending their money — whether that is their tax money, their sons’ and daughters’ and grandchildren’s tuition money, or the money they have donated to the University of Iowa Foundation. The people of Iowa should be allowed to judge for themselves whether this $320,000 was a worthwhile expenditure. The people of Iowa are entitled to know what this research found about the university’s perceived strengths and weaknesses.”

The FOI Council’s letter continued: “This public accountability is precisely what the Iowa Legislature had in mind when it wrote the open records law. But if you and the University of Iowa continue to treat these documents as a secret, you will erode the public trust in the university and in your stewardship of the institution.”

The full text of the Iowa FOI Council’s letter is available here. Letter.UI.Harreld.2015