Governor's pitch needs follow-up

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 4 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:10 pm in

Gazette Editorial Board

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Back in July, we wrote an editorial praising an idea floated by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. Amid a debate over the fate of a DCI agent fired after catching the governorís SUV speeding, Branstad said Iowans should be allowed to know much more about state employee dismissals.

Current state law shields much of those records from public view. The governor lamented, in the case of the agent, that officials couldnít detail why he was fired. He said the law should be changed.

But not much happened. No bill was filed ahead of the 2014 legislative session to change the law, and lawmakers didnít take up the issue. Until now.

Now, eight months later, faced with new pointed questions about confidential settlements reached with fired state employees, the governor is once again asking for more transparency in employment records. Branstad even suggested this past week that the law keeps state officials from disclosing the records of state workers fired over abusive or violent conduct. He said itís happened ďa lot,Ē but had no specifics.

Despite the curious delay, and the fact that the governorís own administration opted for confidential agreements, apparently without his knowledge, weíre still in favor of more transparency. We welcome the governorís renewed interest in the issue.

As we said in July, personnel exemptions in Iowaís open records laws can keep Iowans from knowing whatís happening inside the agencies and institutions they pay for with their taxes. There are countless examples of governmental entities using personnel matters to sweep significant problems under the rug without explanation. The public has a right to know more.

Weíre certainly sensitive to the privacy concerns of employees. But we hope lawmakers find a way to balance those worries with the need to keep taxpayers informed. And we hope they tackle the issue before the end of the 2014 session. We hope we donít have to wait for another gubernatorial drama.

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