ISU claims list of Leath passengers is secret

By Jason Clayworth
Des Moines Register

That includes professional bow hunter John Dudley, who accompanied ISU President Steven Leath on at least four donor-funded trips. One plane ride on Feb. 27, 2015, with his wife Sharon Dudley, for example, cost $4,108, an unredacted copy of the records obtained by The Des Moines Register shows.

“There are already enough questions raised by the public about how the president is using the Iowa State aircraft, and stamping as secret the names of people who fly with him does nothing to instill confidence in the judgment he’s displaying,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and the Register’s former opinion page editor.

The Register on Wednesday filed a complaint against the university and its foundation before the Iowa Public Information Board. The paper argues the redactions are illegal, saying the information is not a donor record and additionally do not identify passengers as donors or potential donors.

The passenger list before September was previously unredacted and available on the university’s website. The Associated Press in September used some of the records to help inform the public about questionable trips and costs associated with damage to a state-owned airplane piloted by Leath.

But those records were removed shortly after an Associated Press report about Leath’s plane mishap.

Leath claimed the unredacted records enabled AP reporter Ryan Foley to identify with whom he was meeting. Leath claims that the reporter asked “totally inappropriate” questions, including about donations raised as a result of the meetings. (Foley told the Register that he had only spoken with one donor before the record removals and had asked about the purpose of the trips and not donations.)

In October, the university reposted the records using a different format and blocking names of dozens of passengers.

Other notable redactions include Dean and Lori Hunziker, whose family owns property involved in a nearly $2.2 million proposed land deal before the Iowa Board of Regents. The Register’s copies of unredacted flight records show Dean and Lori Hunziker flew to Sulphur Springs, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, on multiple occasions in 2015 with Leath.

ISU Public Records Officer Sheryl Rippke responded Wednesday to a Nov. 7 request by the Register for unredacted copies of the records. She said information that has been redacted is only on records that identify donors or donor information.

“Accordingly, the redacted information is not subject to disclosure,” Rippke said.

The Register downloaded copies of some of the unredacted records before they were pulled from the school’s website and was able to compare the documents. The newspaper provided examples to the Iowa Public Information board, arguing that neither version names passengers as donors.

Evans said the redactions make it impossible for taxpayers to hold government officials accountable.

“Look at the trip into New York City where they stopped to refuel and picked up the president’s brother and partner,” Evans said. “By their logic, they would never have to disclose the passenger was his brother. They could use the Iowa State aircraft and make a big circle around the United States and pick up all the president’s kids by the same logic because they are potential donors to Iowa State University.”