Representative Dawn Pettengill / The City of Waterloo, Iowa / Chapter 22-Time frame to release records
March 17, 2014
Representative Dawn Pettengill BY EMAIL ONLY
303 East St.
Mount Auburn, IA 52313
RE: Formal Complaint 14FC:0012, concerning the City of Waterloo, Iowa
Dear Representative Pettengill:
You contacted the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) on March 3, 2014, with a formal complaint against the City of Waterloo, Iowa. You allege that the City violated Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code by failing to appropriately respond to a public records request in a timely manner. You asked for certain action by the IPIB: “Please remind them of what a timely response to a FOIA request is.”
The following facts are not disputed: You submitted a written request for public records (pension system information) on November 20, 2013. On January 9, 2014, you received a response with the requested information “penciled in.” You did not receive actual records, although you did receive information taken from the actual records.
This office contacted the City of Waterloo for an explanation of the delay on March 4, 2014. The City, through counsel, provided the following information on March 11, 2014:
Formal Complaint 14FC:0012 (Rep. Dawn Pettengill)
By letter dated November 20, 2013, Rep. Pettengill sent a request for information to the Waterloo City Clerk. At some point it was forwarded to Michelle Weidner in the Finance Department, apparently on the mistaken belief that the requested information was in the possession of the Finance Department. However, the Finance Department does not manage the payroll function for the City of Waterloo and did not have the overtime hours and pay information that was requested.
The payroll clerk who would typically generate these reports was on maternity leave during this timeframe and returned to work in the week when the city’s response was made.
The city observes 5 scheduled holidays from Thanksgiving through January 2, during the time that the information was requested. That was also a time of year when several of the employees in the human resources and finance departments took vacation time off, resulting in a shortage of staff available to respond to requests through the holidays.
The Human Resources director was back from vacation Monday, January 6. The reports were run late that day. The Finance Department assembled the information to provide the city clerk and understood that she would respond. A representative from the League of Cities contacted Michelle Weidner in the Finance Department between January 6 and January 9, to ask if there was any way the information could be provided immediately. These contacts from a League representative were the only contacts received from the League of Cities in follow up of the request. The City Clerk was not available to assist in accessing the information, so due to the urgency Michelle assisted to help in putting together a response. On January 9, Michelle then provided the information and followed up with a typed copy of the information on January 10. (The League requested that it be typed. Apparently, Ms. Pettengill complained to them about the formatting of the information received.)
Iowa Code Chapter 22 does not list a specific time frame for release of public records. Section 22.8 describes the process a government body must follow to seek an injunction to restrain examination. Subsection 22.8(4(d) sets forth the time frames for injunctive relief and provides: “A reasonable delay for this purpose shall not exceed twenty calendar days and ordinarily should not exceed ten business days.”
The reasons for the delay, as outlined by the City, do not meet the acceptable reasons for delay as outlined in Subsection 22.8(4). The City acknowledges that in the letter that accompanied the explanation and requested leniency:
The City of Waterloo understands the purposes of the open records law and supports the disclosure of public records. By providing the attached explanation, no attempt is being made to evade responsibility for the manner in which a response to a request for information was made, but simply to explain the factors that caused a delayed response in this particular instance. In evaluating whether a violation of the open records law occurred, we would ask the Board to consider that the delay was an aberration caused in part by an internal misdirection of the request that resulted only in harmless error and does not show willful non-compliance or a pattern of improper handling.
Iowa Code Section 23.8 provides two options for action by the IPIB upon receipt of a complaint, the second of which states:
“Determine that, on its face, the complaint is outside its jurisdiction, is legally insufficient, is frivolous, is without merit, involves harmless error, or relates to a specific incident that has previously been finally disposed of on its merits by the board or a court. In such a case the board shall decline to accept the complaint. If the board refuses to accept a complaint, the board shall provide the complainant with a written order explaining its reasons for the action.”
You requested no punitive sanctions against the City, only that the City acknowledges that the response was not timely and guards against future delays.
For the reasons set forth above, it is therefore ordered that the complaint is dismissed on the grounds that the complaint involves harmless error and has been appropriately resolved informally.
A copy of this Order is being forwarded to the Iowa Public Information Board for review at its next scheduled meeting on March 20, 2014.
City of Waterloo, legal department