The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) on Thursday issued a partial acceptance order in a case concerning the Crawford County Firefighters Association (CCFFA).
The partial order was written by IPIB Executive Director Margaret E. Johnson.
Johnson said CCFFA appears to be an entity that could be required to turn over records, but the partial order was not an order to do so.
The case under consideration involves a complaint filed by Denison Mayor Jared Beymer, Beth Vogt of Dow City and Charter Oak City Council Member Peggy Staley alleging that CCFFA violated Iowa Code Chapter 22 open meeting laws.
According to IPIB, Beymer requested CCFFA financial records, minutes and treasurer reports and received no response.
Vogt requested copies of CCFFA minutes and was denied.
Staley was denied her requests for a CCFFA insurance bill and lease agreement with the National Weather Service.
On August 27, legal counsel for the CCFFA filed a response to the complaint stating that CCFFA does not meet the definition of a government body in Iowa Code 22.1.
The response said CCFFA is a nonprofit organization that does not conduct pari-mutuel wagering.
“He (legal counsel) agreed that the CCFA has partnered with a government body, the E-911 Board, to sponsor a grant to replace a communication (sic) tower owned by the CCFA, but stated this partnership did not redefine CCFA as a government body subject to Iowa Code chapter 22,” the IPIB partial order related.
(IPIB uses the abbreviation CCFA, but CCFFA appears to be the organization’s preferred abbreviation.)
The CCFFA legal counsel stated that CCFFA owns a communications tower and the land it sits on and leases the tower to various government bodies for communications systems, according to Johnson.
The partial order noted that additional information provided to IPIB indicated that at least one county official serves as property manager for CCFFA and that CCFFA contracts with various local government bodies to provide government functions.
Johnson noted an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in which the Iowa State University Foundation was ruled to be a governmental body for the purposes of the open meetings law because the foundation solicited and provided funds for the benefit of Iowa State University.
She also related an unpublished decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals in which Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP) records were determined to be public records subject to release because ICAP had contracted with the City of Bettendorf for defense of tort claims against the city.
According to the partial order, Duane Zenk, representing the CCFFA at the November 21 IPIB meeting, stated that all of the requested records were available to the public but continued to argue that CCFFA is not a government body subject to the open records law.
The only records that remain in contention are the minutes and the financial reports, Johnson wrote.
“Further review of the organizational documents available for public access (such as minutes, leases, emails, correspondence, grants, and financial transactions) indicate that the CCFA currently or in the recent past provided or received service for or contracted with the E-911 Board, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, the Crawford County Emergency Management Agency, the Crawford County Memorial Hospital, the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, the Crawford County Land Mobile Advisory Board, the Crawford County Secondary Roads Department, various Crawford County fire departments, the Crawford County Assessor, and nine municipalities,” Johnson wrote.
CCFFA appears to function in a de facto, informal manner that is similar to an Iowa Code chapter 28E government body, according to Johnson.
“The membership of the CCFA board includes three individuals who are employed by or associated with organizations affiliated with CCFA, further strengthening the position that the CCFA is in fact a government body,” Johnson wrote.
“Iowa Code section 23.8 required that a complaint be within IPIB’s jurisdiction, appear legally sufficient, and could have merit before the IPIB accepts a complaint. This complaint meets those requirements.”
The complaint was partially accepted as to the records that have not been released.
“Parties are directed to work with IPIB staff to reach an informal resolution as required by Iowa Code section 23.9,” Johnson wrote.
The IPIB board will review the order on Thursday.
“The board makes the final decision,” Johnson told the Bulletin and Review.
The choices for the board are to accept or not accept.
If it is not accepted, it would be returned to Johnson with guidance; she would rewrite it and return it to the board for review at the January meeting.
“That doesn’t happen a lot, but it could happen,” Johnson said.
This step was a review to determine whether or not IPIB might have jurisdiction over the complaint.
“If the board approves the acceptance at the meeting on Thursday, then one of the staff people here will work with the parties to try to reach an informal resolution,” she said. “That’s what’s required under Iowa Code section 23.9.”
The partial acceptance order is not a final order.
“It’s just an order accepting the complaint,” Johnson said. “Accepting doesn’t mean that it’s valid. It just means that it’s within our jurisdiction; it could have merit.”
CCFFA can choose to comply or not comply at this point, Johnson said.
“(If they choose not to comply) then the next step is to do a formal investigation and then there is a more formal investigation done by staff,” Johnson said. “Whoever the staff person that does that would then put together a probable cause report and that would go to the board and the board would determine what their next step would be.”
Johnson said a change would be made, before the Thursday meeting, to a footnote regarding the various current positions Zenk holds outside of the CCFFA, though she did not specify the changes.