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U of I refuses to release presidential search e-mails

The school says messages to and from a longtime administrator regarding the search for a new leader shouldn't be public.

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

December 29, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]

Iowa City, Ia. - The University of Iowa refused Thursday to make public e-mails that a longtime U of I administrator, who sits on the board of directors of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, sent or received concerning University Hospitals and the school's search for a new president.

Based on advice from Attorney General Tom Miller's office, university officials said the administrator, John Colloton, who retired in 2000, "does not have any public duties at the university, and his communications do not memorialize the discharge of any official functions."

Colloton headed University Hospitals for many years. Although he is retired, he still has an office at the hospital, and the school provides him with a secretary, Nancy Kirkpatrick, who is paid $56,499 a year by the state. Kirkpatrick has no duties with other doctors or administrators, hospital spokeswoman Diana Lundell said.

The Des Moines Register filed a request last month under Iowa's public records law to view correspondence to and from Colloton, as well as other university and hospital administrators, as part of its reporting on the U of I's failed presidential search.

The Iowa Board of Regents rejected four finalists for the job on Nov. 17, saying the candidates did not have enough experience running a health science operation.

Colloton is not officially connected with the U of I's presidential search. But one candidate not among the finalists is an acquaintance of Colloton's.

Deborah Freund, former vice chancellor at Syracuse University, had met Colloton through health care circles. Freund serves on the board of directors of Lifetime Health Cos., a company that operates Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plans in New York.

Colloton has been on the Wellmark board since 2001.

The 75-year-old Coralville resident joined the University Hospitals administrative staff in 1958 and served as director for 23 years, beginning in 1970. He is credited with transforming what was then primarily a hospital for indigent patients into a center that serves people from across Iowa.

The regents named a hospital pavilion after him in 1982.

After leaving the hospital director's job, Colloton served as vice president for statewide health services at the U of I before his retirement in 2000.

Although he does not draw a university paycheck, Colloton still keeps regular office hours at his office at the hospital. The unmarked office is on the hospital's seventh floor.

Besides having a university-paid secretary, he also has a university telephone and e-mail account - both of which are both listed in the 2006-07 U of I staff directory.

Colloton keeps in regular contact with top officials at the university, according to a handful of his e-mails that were received by other employees covered under the Register's records request.

Colloton sent an e-mail to Interim U of I President Gary Fethke in July discussing "the complexities involved in attempting to do medical manpower studies that we discussed at our last luncheon." Attached to that e-mail was an article from the New York Times titled "Too Many Doctors in the House." There were also several e-mails from University Hospitals chief executive Donna Katen-Bahensky, who was trying to set up meetings with Colloton from August 2005 to last April.

Iowa's open records law gives government bodies no more than 20 days to provide public documents. The Register submitted its request on Nov. 27. The university failed to meet that 20-day requirement in the documents turned over Thursday to the newspaper.