Government agencies violating Iowa's open records laws

Tamara Coons, 56, of Anamosa (Courtesy: Linn County Jail)
Tamara Coons, 56, of Anamosa (Courtesy: Linn County Jail)(KCRG)
Published: Jun. 28, 2019 at 6:12 PM CDT
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One city in eastern Iowa is not saying why it fired its city clerk, a move that could leave taxpayers on the hook for her unemployment benefits. It's one of several examples of agencies violating open records law.

Early this month, Anamosa's City Clerk, Tammy Coons, was arrested for OWI charges after a crash, months after she was convicted of another OWI charge. The city announced fired Coons the following day.

Anamosa City Administrator Jacob Sheridan claims Coons' termination had nothing to do with her alleged criminal activity. His comments are important because should Coons file for unemployment benefits the city would need to prove it had a good reason to fire her. If not, taxpayers would have to pay those benefits.

State law requires government agencies to give a documented reason when an employee is fired for disciplinary reasons. When I9 asked for that, Sheriden refused to comply because he said the "termination was not related to any disciplinary action."

Anamosa is not alone. The Iowa City School Board fired an employee this week and they too are refusing to say why and denied our request for an explanation.

Randy Evans, the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, tells I9 he believes these are examples of government agencies making a deliberate choice to break the law.

"Whether the discipline involved a criminal action or whether the discipline involved violating school district policies its a disciplinary action that the law says needs to shared with the public," said Evans.

Evans says Governor Kim Reynolds also broke Iowa's open records law when she asked Iowa Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven to resign without explanation.

Governor Reynolds was Lieutenant Governor when the law was signed. In a statement Friday, the Governor's Office said in part, "The Governor has indicated that she is doing a top to bottom review of all state agencies and many factors contributed to her decision to ask for Jerry Foxhoven's resignation."

The governor's office declined to comment on the other situations mentioned in this report.

I9 invited every member of the Iowa City School Board along with any district official of the administration's choosing to talk this situation Friday morning but no one responded.

In the case of Anamosa, I9 has filed a complaint with the state agency that enforces open records laws, Iowa's Public Information Board. The process can take months.