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Iowa Governor’s Office Violates Open Records Law, Lawsuits Filed
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July 19, 2020 – Des Moines, Iowa, USA: The Iowa State Capitol is the state capitol building of the U.S. state of Iowa. default

The office of Gov. Kim Reynolds in Iowa is accused of withholding public records related to its $26 million, no-bid contract for coronavirus testing in two new lawsuits filed by the federal government.

In a pair of new lawsuits, the Iowa governor’s office is accused of unlawfully withholding public records related to a $26 million, no-bid coronavirus contract.

A Utah-based company investigating testing programs in several states has accused Governor Kim Reynolds and her office’s public records custodian, attorney Michael Boal, of violating open records laws.

  
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Jittai was launched by Paul Huntsman, chairman of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper board, to search for public records related to Test Utah and similarly titled programs in Nebraska, Iowa, and Tennessee. He is funding the requests and vows to make public the results, saying he wants to know if the programs worked and whether public funds were used for private gain.

Attorney Suzanne Rasmussen, who has previously worked for former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert as chief records officer, filed two nearly identical lawsuits against Reynolds and Boal this week in Polk, Utah. In their complaint, Reynolds’ office is alleged to have refused to “timely and meaningfully respond” to record requests for the Test Iowa program for more than five months.

Rasmussen in March asked the governor’s office for correspondence relating to Nomi Health, a Utah startup that was selected to run the program.

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In the lawsuits, Boal requests to access records electronically on July 20, and Rasmussen responds the same day.

“Governor Reynolds and Boal have knowingly refused to make the records available for Rasmussen for examination and copying,” the petitions state.



The lawsuits seek an order requiring both people to comply with the open records law, an injunction prohibiting future violations for one year, damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Besides seeking removal from office, the lawsuits ask the court to order Reynolds and Boal’s removal if they are found to have violated the open records law in the past for which damages are assessed.

Iowa law says courts “shall issue an order removing a person from office” for a second such violation, but it’s unclear whether that would apply to Reynolds. The Iowa Constitution gives lawmakers, and not the courts, the ability to impeach and remove the governor if he or she is incompetent.

No immediate comment was available from the governor’s spokesman.

Rasmussen has also filed lawsuits seeking records from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s office, Nebraska’s state epidemiologist, and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

She added that she is investigating how the testing contracts were signed, validating the testing, and taking advantage of political ties and political power to push the projects forward.

Reynolds says she decided to copy Utah’s drive-thru testing program after getting a tip from Ashton Kutcher, a friend of a software executive who worked on it.

Nomi Health signed an emergency contract with Iowa in April 2020 to procure 540,000 Coronavirus tests, produced by Co-Diagnostics, which is based in Utah. Utah tech firms Domo and Qualtrics also worked on parts of the program, which is now at-home testing and currently facing a backlog for kits.

According to Iowa’s online checkbook, Nomi Health has been paid more than $35 million in all.

During the pandemic, the governor’s office received increasing criticism for tightly regulating information and refusing to acknowledge or respond to many requests for public records. In his 50 years as an Iowa journalist, Randy Evans, director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said recently that the state’s compliance with the law is the worst he has seen in the state.

Rasmussen filed a lawsuit last month against Iowa’s health department and records custodian Sarah Ekstrand seeking correspondence between Garcia and officials in Utah, Nebraska, and Tennessee on testing programs.

According to the lawsuit, Eriksen told Rasmussen in April that she expected the records to be released within five days. However, no records had been released by late July.

In a lawsuit, former Health Department spokesperson Polly Carver Kimm claims that she was forced out of her position by the governor’s office for making public information available to news outlets. Lawyers for the governor and her spokesman argued that the open records law is not a “well-recognized” public policy and therefore does not provide protection to at-will employees who fulfill requests.



 

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