(The Center Square) – Two journalists and one open records advocacy group have sued Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, saying her office has violated open records laws.
Bleeding Heartland writer Laura Belin, Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans and Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter Clark Kauffman are listed as plaintiffs in the case. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is representing them and their respective organizations in the case, it announced in a news release. They are asking the court to order the office to provide the news organizations the requested records and complies with future requests “in a timely manner.”
The organizations have repeatedly requested the information and either received no response or acknowledgement of the request. They additionally never received the records requested, despite follow-up inquiries. Some requests date back to April 2020.
“The Governor’s office’s handling of public records requests since the beginning of the pandemic has demonstrated a persistent pattern of just ignoring them,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in the release. “The Governor is not exempt from the law. The public’s need for robust reporting about our government is greater than ever. We count on reporters every day to shine a light on public officials. We are proud to represent our clients in their efforts to enforce their right to public records, so that in turn, they can do their job of informing the public.”
Requests from the plaintiffs include those regarding the deployment of Iowa State Patrol employees to assist Texas with border security, the auction of a dinner with the governor at Terrace Hill to benefit the Des Moines Christian School, and the termination of the former director of the Iowa Veterans Home, the release said.
Bettis Austen, ACLU legal director, said in the release that the plaintiffs have been patient with Reynolds’ office, keeping in mind the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s been too long.
“Unfortunately, the Governor’s office continued to unreasonably flout the law, which requires that records be provided in a reasonable period of time,” she said. “But we’re long past the point when a delay might be considered reasonable. At this point, the delays are beyond the pale. Our clients would have much preferred the Governor’s office follow the law than have to take this legal action just to be able to get the information they need to do their job to cover matters of high public interest in these demanding times.”
The governor’s spokesman said Reynold’s office is continuing to process the “considerable increase” in open records requests that it received during the pandemic and is therefore changing its open records system.
Reynolds’ Communications Director Alex Murphy told Capitol reporters open records requests should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. He said outstanding requests would receive a status notification email from the address.
“We will not comment further on this pending litigation,” Murphy told The Center Square in an emailed statement Monday.
ACLU of Iowa Communications Director Veronica Fowler told The Center Square in a phone interview Monday that no court date has yet been set and that, to her knowledge, the complaint had not yet been stamped by the Polk County District Court clerk.
“We’re just in a holding pattern right now,” Fowler said.