The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Dismissal Order:
On October 16, 2020, Mari Radtke, on behalf of Marcus News, filed formal complaint 20FC:0106, alleging that the O’Brien County Conservation Board (Board) violated Iowa Code chapter 22.
Ms. Radtke alleged that she submitted a request to the Board for a large number of records on September 14, 2020. Over the next few weeks, she worked with the Board’s legal counsel to refine her request. On October 8, 2020, she submitted another record request. On October 14, 2020, she requested an update on the status of her requests and expanded the record request.
On October 14, 2020, legal counsel for the Board advised Ms. Radtke that the process had been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the records should be ready soon. Counsel also questioned Ms. Radtke about payment of the fees for the records.
Ms. Radtke included in her complaint that she normally was not required to pay any fees. She alleged that the Board was violating Iowa Code chapter 22 by engaging the services of legal counsel and by charging fees for public records.
Legal counsel for the Board responded to Ms. Radtke’s complaint as follows:
The Board believed that the record request from September 14, 2020, as modified, was fulfilled on October 7, 2020. Confirmation of fulfillment was requested by legal counsel, but not provided by Ms. Radtke.
No costs were assessed for the September 14, 2020, record requests.
When Ms. Radtke expanded her October 8, 2020, record request on October 14, 2020, counsel advised her that the estimated fees allowable pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 22 would be $130.00. Counsel indicated that the fees were based upon 45 hours of time spent on her record requests and was half of the actual costs incurred.
Counsel added that the records were available upon payment of the fees.
In reply, Ms. Radtke stated that the O’Brien county attorney should be handling her record requests, not outside counsel. She added that the time spent on her requests was exaggerated and excessive. She alleged that the hiring of outside counsel was done “as a weapon to discourage a public records search.”
Ms. Radtke added on November 13, 2020, that she had received the records from her October 8, 2020, record request. She added that there were records missing, but did not indicate what record(s) she did not have.
Counsel for the Board stated on December 3, 2020, that Ms. Radtke did pay the fee of $130.00.
The records requested by Ms. Radtke in the October 8, 2020, request resulted in the retrieval, review, and release of about 51 pages of records. A search/review of physical files, computer files, six cell phones, and at least seven email accounts was conducted to obtain the records responsive to Ms. Radtke’s request. Based upon the number of records requested and the 45 hours counsel spent to fulfill the record request, the fee of $130.00 does not seem unreasonable.
Iowa Code section 23.8 requires that a complaint be within the IPIB’s jurisdiction, appear legally sufficient, and have merit before the IPIB accepts a complaint. This complaint does not meet those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 20FC:0106 is dismissed as legally insufficient pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(2) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(b).
Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(3), the IPIB may “delegate acceptance or dismissal of a complaint to the executive director, subject to review by the board.” The IPIB will review this Order on December 17, 2020. Pursuant to IPIB rule 497-2.1(4), the parties will be notified in writing of its decision.
By the IPIB Executive Director
Margaret E. Johnson
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of December, 2020, to:
Micah Schreurs, legal counsel for the O’Brien County Conservation Board