March 18, 2008

Revision to Iowa Open Records Law Could Clarify Protection for Ombuds Notes

Legislators in Iowa legislators are struggling to revise the state's open-records law which gives citizens broad access to records created by public employees. The amendment would allow government agencies to keep secret certain records that are "tentative, preliminary, draft (or) speculative" in nature. Iowa law professor Arthur Bonfield, a proponent of the proposed revision, says the intent is not to limit access to records that reflect the give-and-take of government officials at work, but to restrict access to records that may only reflect one individual's musings on an issue. An editorial in the Des Moines Register, on the other hand, says that the amendment is so confusing that records of every imaginable sort could be labeled "draft" and put forever beyond the reach of the public. (SF 2378 Bill History; Des Moines Register Article, Editorial.)

At present, there are about half a dozen public-sector Organizational Ombuds working in Iowa, who presumably would be covered by this amendment. If the law were to provide a clear protection for a government employee's personal, temporary notes on a specific matter, this would enhance their ability to ensure confidentiality. Since open records laws are under scrutiny around the county, this particular issue bears monitoring by Ombuds.

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