Evans: Government needs room for common sense

People like to talk about what the law says. And in Iowa, the law has a lot to say. Just look at the Iowa Code. It now fills eight volumes and costs $295 for a complete set. But common sense costs nothing — although the 18th century thinker Voltaire once observed, “Common sense is not so common.”

Two examples involving government in Iowa in recent weeks clearly show the Frenchman was on to something. For about 13 months, most state and local government boards and councils have held “virtual” meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Evans: No justification for shutting out the public

There are some high-minded legal principles written into Iowa laws and rulings by our state’s Supreme Court. But in recent weeks, one of those sound principles has run into a few closed-minded state officials and the closed doors of government. Some officials prefer to conduct the people’s business without being bothered with having the pesky public around. This has occurred during the Iowa Board of Regents process for learning what students and employees at the University of Iowa hope to see in a new UI president. This has occurred as the Iowa Department of Public Health tapped into the advice of medical experts on what priorities should be established for access to the new coronavirus vaccines.

Evans: State Fair meeting was an affront to open government

The decision last week to cancel the Iowa State Fair was a reminder of the seriousness of coronavirus and the consequences of many people’s anxiety about returning to activities that normally are an important part of Iowa life. But the State Fair’s decision also illuminated an embarrassing disconnect from the norms of government transparency and accountability in our state. I have attended government meetings for 50 years – from small-town city councils and school boards, to state boards and commissions. I have never seen or heard about a more outrageous abuse of the principle of open government than the State Fair Board exhibited last week. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Iowa’s Bid For Open Government Is Never-Ending

The grade might stun you — Iowa receiving a D-plus for government transparency from the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity Monday morning, Nov. 9, in a government transparency study of all 50 U.S. states. These same organizations gave Iowa a C-plus the last time they studied government transparency for a March 2012 report. How could Iowa do worse this time? Iowa has made some moves, notably forming a Public Information Board later in 2012 to better resolve complaints Iowans have about government openness.