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UI complies with open records request

No documents from Colloton released

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 30, 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.]

The University of Iowa responded to an open records request by the Press-Citizen but failed to release specific documents involving John Colloton, director emeritus at University Hospitals.

UI violated the Iowa Open Records Law by not fulfilling in a timely fashion the newspaper's request for correspondences to and from Colloton, who has an office and a secretary at the hospital and who also maintains relationships with key administrators as well as other state officials.

The Press-Citizen filed the request Nov. 29 because of a tip that suggested the correspondence might contain newsworthy information, some of which involved the search to find a successor to former UI President David Skorton.

The university did not comply until late Thursday afternoon. UI exceeded the 20-day waiting period, a violation of Iowa Code 22.8.4.d that states it has 20 calendar days to determine if the requested materials should be available for public inspection.

The university, after consulting with the state Attorney General's Office, said it would not furnish e-mails or other documents generated by Colloton. Colloton retired from UI in December 2000 and was named director emeritus Jan. 1, 2001.

UI said in a statement that Colloton, who is a member of the board of directors at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, "does not have any public duties at the university and his communications do not memorialize the discharge of any official functions.

"Rather, Mr. Colloton's e-mail and other documents are personal communications, the examination of which would not 'facilitate public scrutiny' of a government official," according to the statement.

Press-Citizen managing editor Jim Lewers took issue with the decision to withhold Colloton's correspondences.

"We appreciate that the university took this request seriously enough to get advice from the attorney general, but we think this is the wrong decision. The law clearly states that public records include all information 'stored or preserved in any medium, of or belonging to this state,'" Lewers said.

"These records are public property, and they very likely would shed important light on the inner workings of the University of Iowa," he said.

The university released requested correspondences from others, including Skorton and other key UI officials, such as Donna Katen-Bahensky, Francois Abboud, interim UI President Gary Fethke and Willard Boyd, among others. But the documents shed no new light on the failed presidential search.

UI also determined it was "not the records custodian" and would not provide documents maintained by others involved either directly or indirectly in the search. That list includes John Forsyth, former president of the Iowa state Board of Regents and a member of the board of directors at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield; regents president Michael Gartner; regents president pro-tem Teresa Wahlert, who led the disbanded presidential search committee; regents executive secretary Gary Steinke; former regents president Marvin Pomerantz, who also is a member of the board of directors at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield; regents Amir Arbisser and Bob Downer; and Gov. Tom Vilsack, among others.

In addition to its open records request, the Press-Citizen also is suing the regents, alleging board members violated the state's open meetings law during several unannounced closed-session meetings involving the UI presidential search. Gartner has declined comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 21 in Polk County District Court in Des Moines.