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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa transparency board to operate on shoestring budget

5/31/2013

DES MOINES — An Iowa agency aimed at improving transparency among public entities will have a shoestring budget and about six months to prove its effectiveness, said Bill Monroe, chairman of the newly created Iowa Public Information Board.

Lawmakers this session provided the board with $350,000 in funding for its first fiscal year, which fell far short of Gov. Terry Branstad’s request of $490,000. The money will pay for a director, deputy director and assistant, as well as office space and equipment.

“We were honestly hoping for more,” Monroe said. “It’s enough to enable us to get the ball rolling.”

TRANSPARENCY: New Iowa agency aimed at enforcing the state’s Open Meetings and Records laws received a $350,000 budget to operate in its first year.

TRANSPARENCY: New Iowa agency aimed at enforcing the state’s Open Meetings and Records laws received a $350,000 budget to operate in its first year.

The agency, under the law that created it, becomes active July 1. However, it most likely won’t be operational until August or later because legislators didn’t approve the budget until this month. That gives it about six months before lawmakers reconvene to prove its effectiveness and need, Monroe said.

“Because we are so new no one knows what we can do and what impact we can have,” Monroe said. “It will be ample time to enable us to make an impression. It’s our goal. It’s not going to be easy, but we didn’t sign up for anything easy.”

Lawmakers created the board during the 2012 Legislative session at Branstad’s urging. Previous public forums showed a lack of enforcement and knowledge of Iowa’s open records and meetings laws among agencies.

Previously, taking a public entity to court was the only way to challenge a denial of records or improper closed meetings. The newly created board has the authority to force agencies to comply.

Monroe said board members will meet in June and hope to hire Des Moines attorney Keith Luchtel as its executive director. Luchtel, and two other candidates, have already been interviewed. Board members, however, could not hire a director until lawmakers set their funding, Monroe said.

“We are appreciative of the members of the governor’s office and the members of Senate and House that did support us and we look forward to showing them their investment will pay off dividends,” Monroe said.

Contact Sheena Dooley at dooley@iowawatchdog.org. Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for Watchdog.org, where this story first appeared.

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