Reynolds’ staff silent on document request related to Iowa Veterans Home

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters May 19, 2021, about the Biden administration's "lack of transparency." (Screen shot from WHO-13 livestream)

After two weeks, Gov. Kim Reynolds has yet to acknowledge a request for records related to the sudden, unexplained departure of the head of the Iowa Veterans Home.

On May 10, the governor’s office announced Commandant Timon Oujiri had been relieved of his duties the previous week. The governor’s spokesman, Pat Garrett, said the office was not able to provide any additional details.

That same day, the Iowa Capital Dispatch asked Garrett for access to recent, written communications between the commandant and the governor’s staff. Garrett never acknowledged the request, and the records have not been provided.

Under Iowa law, requests for government records are expected to be answered within 10 days. In cases where the potential confidentiality of records is an issue, a government agency can take up to 20 days to respond to a request.

The governor’s office has yet to provide access to another set of records first requested 46 days ago.

On April 8, the Capital Dispatch asked Garrett for any legal opinions the governor’s office had related to the auction of a dinner with Reynolds at the governor’s mansion. The auction was held to benefit a private, Christian school in Des Moines. The winner of the auction was not named on the school’s website, but he or she appears to have bid $30,100 for the dinner.

Garrett never responded to the April 8 request. On April 14, the Capital Dispatch wrote again to Garrett, advising him that he was obligated by law “to respond to requests for documents.” Garrett did not respond. On April 30, the Capital Dispatch sent him a third message reiterating the request. Garrett did not respond.

On May 5, the Capital Dispatch Reynolds asked Reynolds at a press conference whether she had obtained an opinion on the legality of such auctions. “This is something that’s been done by governors for years,” she said. “We have the authority to do that.” Afterward, Garrett said he would ask his team for a copy of the legal opinion “and get it to you.”

Garrett did not provide the records and he did not respond to additional inquiries.

Prior to the governor’s May 19 press conference, Garrett approached a Capital Dispatch reporter and assured him the records would be provided later that same day. The records were not provided.

Although the governor’s office is subject to the Iowa Open Records Law, enforcement can be problematic. Under Iowa law, the governor’s office is not subject to oversight by either the Iowa Public Information Board or the state Office of Ombudsman.

In January, Reynolds told Iowa reporters she was willing to commit to doing a better job of responding to information requests from the media. “We want to be transparent and open,” she told reporters. “We’ve just had a lot on our plate this year.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.