One state senator serving on a new transparency task force of the Iowa Board of Regents said he thought the group’s original charge was too narrow, and he made clear at the first meeting Friday he wants to also discuss regent decision-making processes.
Regents President Craig Lang said he agrees that should be within the scope of the group.
Information from the regents office says the charge of the task force is twofold: to recommend best practices for responding to public information requests, and to recommend best practices for additional access to public information of interest to Iowans.
Task force member Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said he thinks that’s too narrow.
“One of the questions I have is are we going to address the decision-making processes of the board of regents itself,” he said. “To me that speaks to the openness of the process in which those decisions are made, not just the decisions themselves.”
Lang assured Danielson he does consider decision-making issues to be fair game for discussion. The regents are “really looking for help” regarding transparency and openness, Lang said.
Board decisions “ought to be open and transparent. People ought to know why it’s done,” Lang said.
The task force’s ability to touch on those issues should be in writing or part of the official charge of the group, Danielson said.
“The salience of how the board makes decisions and their expression of publicness is as important as following through with the law when it comes to information requests subsequent to those decisions,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to really restore the faith of Iowans in our board of regents as well as all the institutions they are responsible for. I really hope we come with a set of recommendations that the board will take up and adopt.”
One example Danielson noted Friday is the fact that the board of regents has no public comment time at every meeting. Groups — often students or faculty — can request to appear before the board, but there is not a regular public comment portion.
Danielson this legislative session introduced a bill that would subject the regents to closer public scrutiny, requiring the board to hold four regional meetings around the state at sites other than the three state university campuses, and require a public comment period at meetings. The bill was approved by the Senate this week and moves to the Iowa House.
The regents, the oversight board for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the state’s special schools for deaf and blind students, formed the transparency task force after recent criticism about openness. The nine-member task force next meets on May 10 in Des Moines and before then plans to hold several public hearings around the state.
Regent Nicole Carroll, of Carroll, leads the task force, which includes representatives from each of the three universities and a member of the public. Along with Danielson, the other legislative member is Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who was unable to attend Friday’s meeting.