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Regents should turn over closed meeting records


Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 9, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

We were happy to hear Iowa state Board of Regents member Bob Downer raise questions about whether a closed session was appropriate during Monday's regents meeting ("Search for leader still up in the air," Dec. 5).

At least someone is talking about openness.

Downer voted against going into closed session but, after the meeting, said the closed session was appropriate.

Downer's concern, however, raises some larger questions: Has something been discussed behind closed doors that shouldn't have been? And, when is the Board of Regents -- or someone else in state government (the governor? the attorney general?) -- going to acknowledge that the "rolling meeting" tactic the regents used earlier in the search was wrong ("Board didn't adjourn for a week," Nov. 18)?

What is the law?

Most Iowans understand that there are times when closed sessions are appropriate. The state open meetings law says that a closed session is allowed "To evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation and that individual requests a closed session."

The law also says "a governmental body shall keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and action occurring at a closed session, and shall also tape record all of the closed session. The detailed minutes and tape recording of a closed session shall be sealed and shall not be public records open to public inspection. However, upon order of the court in an action to enforce this chapter, the detailed minutes and tape recording shall be unsealed and examined by the court in camera. The court shall then determine what part, if any, of the minutes should be disclosed to the party seeking enforcement of this chapter for use in that enforcement proceeding."

And, finally, the law says, "Nothing in this section requires a governmental body to hold a closed session to discuss or act upon any matter."

Independent review is necessary

We suggest the Board of Regents take the minutes and tapes of all of the closed sessions it has had related to the president search and turn them over to an independent agency -- perhaps the attorney general's office -- to review to determine whether the closed sessions were appropriate.

At the same time, we suggest the regents ask the independent agency to review all of the circumstances of the "rolling meetings" the regents held last month. The regents and their legal advisers argue that they were within the letter of the law when they did not officially adjourn their regular meeting last month in Cedar Falls and continued to meet over the next week without providing the required public notice of time, date and place of each meeting.

The regents' "rolling meeting" cannot stand as an appropriate precedent for a public board. Any public board -- including the ones that control your taxes and other important aspects of your lives -- could just conclude its meeting without official adjournment and then sneak off and keep talking.

We Iowans are too smart and too committed to open government to stand for these shenanigans.

The Board of Regents has put itself, the state's higher education system and the state as a whole in a terrible position with its lack of regard for open government. Now it must find a way to undo the mistrust and damage. We suggest independent review. If the board doesn't undo the damage and mistrust, someone else must step in.