The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Acceptance Order:
Tad McDowell filed formal complaint 21FC:0059 on June 30, 2021, alleging that the Mills County Assessor (Assessor) violated Iowa Code chapter 22.
Mr. McDowell alleged that on June 1, 2021, and again on June 10, 2021, he requested public records from the Assessor. The records requested included copies of Iowa Form 57-011 from all 2020 “normal sales” and letters from the Board of Review to all people who had property assessments adjusted in 2021.
He also alleged that on June 10, 2021, he requested copies of property record cards for his property and for four other Glenwood, Iowa, properties and official contact information for the Mills County Board of Review.
As of the date of the filing of this complaint, Mr. McDowell alleged that he had not received the requested records.
On July 2, 2021, legal counsel for the Mills County Board of Review and the Assessor responded to the formal complaint. Counsel stated that Mr. McDowell submitted the record requests after initiating litigation against the Mills County Board of Review on a property tax assessment matter. He further alleged that some of the records had already been released to Mr. McDowell.
Legal counsel added: “Mr. McDowell has been told multiple times that since he has filed a lawsuit, he needs to follow the rules of litigation, including the rules of discovery as set forth in the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. He has been told repeatedly that now that he has sued the county, that his requests for information need to go through my office.”
Subsequent to the filing of this complaint, the Mills County District Court entered an order in response to the Mills County Board of Review’s Motion for Order Directing Plaintiff to Observe Discovery and Ethics Rules. (See Attachment A) The Order states, in part, that any “request for information that is relevant and relates to the issues on appeal shall be directed to counsel representing the Defendant as discovery request.”
The Court also ruled: “This Order does not prohibit the Plaintiff from making lawful public records request in accordance with Iowa Code Chapter 22 that would otherwise not violate this Court’s Order.”
Neither party was able to provide IPIB staff with a list of which public records fall within the protection of the district court order.
Subsequent to the issuance of this Order, on August 2, 2021, the District Court dismissed a portion of the appeal, leaving only the appeal of Mr. McDowell’s property assessment at issue. It would appear that the other records requested would not be relevant or relate to the issues on appeal and should be considered as valid public records requests.
Iowa Code section 22.2(1) states: “Every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record or the information contained in a public record.” Chapter 22 does not restrict this right to only those individuals who are not engaged in litigation with a lawful custodian.
Mr. McDowell submitted his records requests to the Assessor. The district court case parties are listed as Mr. McDowell and the Mills County Board of Review.
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 meet those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 21FC:00059 is accepted pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(1) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(a). Parties shall cooperate with IPIB staff to reach an appropriate informal resolution to resolve the complaint pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.9.
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 August 19, 2021. 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
1. Mr. McDowell filed an appeal with the Iowa Property Assessment Appeal Board. He filed a separate appeal with the Mills County District Court (EQCV027232) on June 16, 2021. Trial setting conference on the District Court case is scheduled for August 17, 2021.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of August, 2021, to:
Brett Ryan, legal counsel for the Mills County Assessor