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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Iowa Update

As Iowa lawmakers look at revamping and putting teeth into enforcement of the state’s open meetings and open records laws, the case of Riverdale has received plenty of notice.

A rewrite of the laws that would, among other things, create a new state board with powers to rule on violations and impose fines on offending officials, “would go a long way toward stopping the kind of abuse we’ve seen in places like Riverdale,” said state Sen. Mike Connolly, D-Dubuque, a chief sponsor of the new law. The attorney general’s office and county attorneys are now responsible for enforcement.

Riverdale was among a few high-profile cases that prodded plans to revise the state’s open government laws, said Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association. Other cases included the Central Iowa Employment Training Consortium scandal and controversy over the release of information during the process of hiring the president at the University of Iowa.

Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, which opposes creation of the proposed board, said a 2006 court ruling in a case that ordered Riverdale to turn over records to citizens and pay their attorney’s fees illustrates that the current enforcement system works.

But, as Iowa and the rest of the nation observe Sunshine Week in honor of laws that protect openness in government, Allen Diercks said lack of enforcement by the attorney general and county attorneys hobbles the ability of residents to know what their elected officials are up to.

“It’s all about the arrogance of government,” said Diercks, a Riverdale resident who has taken the town of 656 to court twice since 2005 over open government disputes. “They try to bully those of us who want to hold them accountable into a corner so we’ll go away. The attorney general or any county attorney who doesn’t want to enforce the law should just resign.”

More here.

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