Ombudsman can’t get records in some cases to complete investigations

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:25 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The state official in charge of looking into complaints involving state government says it can’t get the records it needs to complete investigations.

Bert Dalmer, who is the acting Ombudsman in Iowa, said state agencies have withheld records citing information that they’re privileged or confidential. He says the problem has become reoccurring in recent years and makes it more difficult to discover a state agency’s true motivations behind a decision.

“It’s the minority of investigations that we do,” Dalmer said. “But, there are some important stuff that we need to get to the bottom of and we sometimes have some road blocks thrown in our way.”

The Office of the Ombudsman has pre-filed legislation to allow it to see those types of confidential records, similar to the State Auditor’s Office. This likely won’t be the only change discussed around access to records in Iowa.

Randy Evans, who is with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said lawmakers are also thinking about placing a limit on what any agency can charge for records. This comes after the Linn-Mar School District charged a western Iowa blogger more than 6-Hundred Thousand dollars for emails and text messages about a “Transgender Week”. KCRG-TV9 was charged 5-Hundred Dollars for a more narrow request.

“Public records ought to be available to rich people as well as poor,” Evans said.

Our i9 Investigative Team also found loopholes in public record laws allow public employees like teachers and law enforcement officers to resign quietly. All an employee has to do is resign for personal reasons and it hides investigations and misconduct from future employers.

Lawmakers are looking into the issue, but don’t know if there will be legislation to address that.

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