Several times a week, someone contacts me because they had difficulty learning about a government meeting or ran into obstacles trying to get government records. These calls and emails to the Iowa Freedom of Information Council come more frequently than just a few years ago. This is a troubling trend because there is growing citizen distrust of government at all levels. It should not be this way. Government officials in Iowa already have the power to make these citizen frustrations disappear — if they want to.
People like to talk about what the law says. And in Iowa, the law has a lot to say. Just look at the Iowa Code. It now fills eight volumes and costs $295 for a complete set. But common sense costs nothing — although the 18th century thinker Voltaire once observed, “Common sense is not so common.”
Two examples involving government in Iowa in recent weeks clearly show the Frenchman was on to something. For about 13 months, most state and local government boards and councils have held “virtual” meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Stephen J. Berry, whose push for journalists to work thoroughly and ethically led him to co-found the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch, will be the annual Celebrating a Free Press and Open Government Banquet’s guest speaker in Des Moines on Thursday, September 27, 2018.
The fact that state authorities sought to obstruct disclosure of a police shooting in Burlington explains, in part, why Iowa received an overall grade of D+ in a 2015 State Integrity Investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.
Two longtime Iowa journalists — Brian Cooper, editor of The Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, and First Amendment advocate Michael Gartner, owner of the Iowa Cubs baseball team — were honored by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch Thursday, Oct. 2, with Free Press Champion Awards. The awards are for their efforts promoting and showing by example the benefits of transparent government in Iowa.
On October 3, The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org and Iowa Newspaper Association will host the first of what organizers hope will be an annual banquet that brings attention to the need of a free press and open government in our democracy. The banquet will feature guest speaker Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and the inaugural giving of awards to two people who have had a signi?cant impact on promoting open government and the notion of a free press in Iowa. Also at the banquet, the presenting sponsor Iowa Freedom of Information Council will announce the winner of its annual Harrison “Skip” Weber Friend of the First Amendment award. The banquet, at the Clarion Hotel Highlander Conference Center, 2525 N. Dodge St., is a fundraiser for the Iowa Center for Investigative Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Sponsors for the Celebrating a Free Press and Open Government banquet are the Iowa Freedom of Information Council; the Associated Press; The Gazette and KCRG powered by Iowa Source Media; the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Iowa City-Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau.