Minor renovations to the President’s Office disrupted the delivery of a letter written to President Bruce Harreld by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, University of Iowa officials say.
The letter, dated Dec. 30, was written by council Director Randy Evans. Evans asked Harreld to intervene as “the ultimate custodian of the university’s public records” and release public documents related to contracts between the UI and the Strawn Co.
(Full disclosure: Evans serves on the Student Publications Inc. Board, which oversees The Daily Iowan.)
The renovations, which included asbestos removal, caused the President’s Office to be closed “for a few weeks,” wrote Anne Bassett, a writer for the UI Office of Strategic Communication, in a statement.
“During that period of time, the mail was picked up on Jan. 6 and Jan. 15, when the office was reopened prior to the start of the spring semester. The letter was not in the batch of mail picked up on Jan. 6 but was in the batch picked up on Jan. 15,” she wrote.
The Associated Press first reported the UI awarded several no-bid contracts to Strawn, which is owned by former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn. The contracts totaled $321,900 for polling and focus-group services.
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The UI has claimed releasing poll findings will serve no public purpose and declined to release them under public- records law.
In the letter, Evans wrote he expected a response by Jan. 15. Subsequently, the information council published an article on its website on Jan. 16 which said Harreld had ignored the letter.
During an interview, Evans said he recognized several events may have delayed a response from Harreld, including the Rose Bowl, which is why he allowed for a two-week response time.
“I will be charitable; I have no reason to doubt what the university said was the reason, but I would say if the president’s staff is going half a month without opening the mail, they have bigger issues than we’re aware of,” Evans said.
However, Evans remains hopeful that the letter has been opened, carefully read, and the requested documents will be released.
He said he believes the UI’s current rationale has no legal basis because the exception relied upon was not designed to cover documents produced for the government at public expense but for businesses regulated by the government.