Closed Meeting Will Remain Secret after Challenge to Public Information Board

Sep 21, 2017

The Iowa Public Information Board, which oversees openness in Iowa government, is itself embroiled in a struggle over a secret meeting it held this summer.      

The nine-member board voted Thursday not to release a recording of the meeting, which disappointed some advocates for transparency in government.  

We're not trying to stonewall or be difficult. -IPIB Member Julie Pottorff

The controversy stems from a controversial open records case the board is handling. 

Interested parties want the Burlington Police Department to release body camera video from a 2015 fatal police shooting. 

In August the board held a closed meeting with their attorney about the police shooting case.   Then in open session they voted on their discussion without revealing the content. 

Herb Strentz, the former executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, filed a complaint with the Iowa Office of Ombudsman about the board’s action.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Public Information Board, Senior Assistant Ombudsman Bert Dalmer tried to get the board to release its recording.   

Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

“The fact is we can not fully explore this complaint without those records,”   Dalmer said. 

But the board voted 7 to 2 against disclosure, citing attorney-client privilege. 

“We’re not trying to stonewall or be difficult or not assist you,” said board member Julie Pottorff.  “But it goes too far to ask us to waive attorney-client privilege.”     

“In the interest of full transparency and accountability we need this information,” Dalmer replied.  

Board member Rick Morain voted to turn over the recording of the meeting.   Morain said the board would benefit from a neutral evaluation of their proceedings.

I'd like to know what we did wrong. -IPIB Member Rick Morain

“If we did it right the validation would help the appearance of this board,” Morain said.  “If we did it  wrong I’d like to know what we did wrong.”  

The Des Moines Register has also filed a complaint over the closed session meeting.  

Dalmer said his agency will continue to investigate the complaint, relying on public information and interviews with board members.       

Note:  Story was corrected at 11:09 a.m. 9/22 to properly identify Bert Dalmer.  He is Senior Assistant Ombudsman.