Governor must follow the law, too

Here is the statement Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, issued in response to the State Appeals Board’s and the Polk County District Court’s acceptance of the settlement of the public-records lawsuit the Council, the Bleeding Heartland blog and the Iowa Capital Dispatch filed against Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is pleased with the outcome of our legal challenge to the governor’s handling of public records requests. At each turn in this case, our initial belief has been upheld: The governor and her staff cannot ignore their obligations under the public records statute, even when doing so might be inconvenient or embarrassing.

The governor’s failure to comply with the law will cost Iowa taxpayers $135,000. Those are 135,000 reasons why state and local government officials and employees should understand they cannot ignore their duty to comply in a timely manner with requests for records.

This lawsuit had its origins in the Covid pandemic, when the governor and her staff refused for up to 18 months to provide numerous records journalists requested. While it was an extremely busy time for government, the people of Iowa had lots of questions about how their state government was, or was not, responding to this health crisis, the worst in a century.

No other custodian of government records in Iowa would be allowed to sidestep the requirements of the public records law for a year and a half without legal consequences. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is gratified the outcome of this case made it abundantly clear the governor cannot disregard the law, either.