- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

Des Moines Register. January 2, 2017

Superintendent’s actions were illegal, but ethical

Fundamental, undeniable inequities are built into the system that pays for Iowa’s public schools.

In fact, it’s openly acknowledged that the state’s school-funding formula is deeply flawed in that some school districts are provided with significantly less money, on a per-student basis, than other districts. To make matters worse, the system also gives local districts very little discretion as to how they can spend some of the money it receives from the state, leaving them with thousands of dollars they can’t spend to shore up basic services for students.

This has been a major source of frustration for Davenport Superintendent Art Tate, who heads a district that receives up to $175 less per student than many other Iowa districts.

His response to that situation - violating Iowa law by openly moving district money out of a specialized “reserve” account to pay for basic, ongoing educational programming - has landed him in hot water.

The Iowa Department of Education filed an ethics complaint against Tate with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, which oversees educators, after district officials appeared before the state’s School Budget Review Committee for spending $1.6 million of its $20 million reserve fund on basic programming needs. Over a period of three years, the district plans to use up to $2.7 million from the reserve fund, which would create a “negative unspent balance” that’s not allowed by Iowa law.

Iowa law requires that any Department of Education employee who “becomes aware of any alleged misconduct” by a school official must report the matter to the Board of Education Examiners.

Given that, it’s understandable the department would file a complaint against Tate. But we hope the board will recognize that while Tate has an obligation to obey the law, he also has an obligation to give the students of Davenport the best education the district can afford. And we hope lawmakers recognize that it’s finally time to change the inequities in funding.

Tate had a choice: He could comply with the law by respecting a budget process that is inherently unfair to Davenport students, or he could violate the law by offsetting the funding inequities, using unspent cash reserves to help pay for immediate educational needs.

Although the specifics of the complaint against Tate are being kept confidential by the state, all complaints to the board must relate to an alleged violation of the board’s Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics. The complaints are then assigned to an investigator who gathers documents and conducts interviews, then prepares a report for the board’s review. The board then determines whether there is probable cause to believe there has been an ethics violation - and if it does make such a finding, the matter then goes before an administrative law judge for a hearing.

If the board adopts a narrow view of what constitutes “ethical” behavior and conduct, Tate is likely to face some form of licensing sanctions.

But this case could follow a different trajectory - one that would be far more productive and which recognizes that ethics and the law aren’t always in agreement with each other. The board could find there is no probable cause for a hearing, or it could allow a hearing on the matter while rejecting any recommendation for sanctions.

To reach those conclusions, the board would only have to acknowledge that when Tate had to choose between adherence to an antiquated school-funding law and providing Davenport students with the best possible education, he sided with his students.

Tate made this decision openly, amidst much publicity, despite the personal and professional risks he could expect to face.

If that doesn’t exemplify the highest ethical behavior one could expect of a school superintendent, what does?

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Mason City Globe Gazette. January 6, 2017

Many good ways to pass winter days in North Iowa

These are the quiet days of winter, when North Iowans gather with friends around the fireplace with warm drinks and board games. Or the sturdier ones venture outside for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and sledding.

It’s a good time to explore local museums that stay open year-round, and see what such places as the MacNider Art Museum, Clear Lake and Charles City Arts Centers and The Music Man Square have to offer. Or take a guided tour of the Historic Park Inn before the crush of tourists arrive. If you’re brave enough, drive out on the ice of Clear Lake to see what the ice-fishermen are catching - but always be mindful of open water caused by the aerators.

NIACC, the Surf Ballroom, and area concert associations are bringing various musicians to the area in the interim.

The Performing Arts and Leadership Series at NIACC will present one-half of the greatest pop music duos in history - Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel fame - on Jan. 13. Together, their greatest hits include classics such as “Mrs. Robinson,” ”The Sounds of Silence,” ”Bridge Over Troubled Water” and many others.

By himself, Garfunkel - they parted ways in 1970 - launched a film career and continued to make recordings, write poetry and raise a family.

He still relishes performing.

“I’m a singer, trying to get away with a lucky job,” he wrote. “I try to soothe, to lift . That’s my life.”

NIACC is to be commended for bringing major talent and shows to our area. Patrons have shown their appreciation by making this a sellout show.

The Surf Ballroom is busy preparing for the annual Winter Dance Party Feb. 1-4. But before that, the historic ballroom will present country music standout Chris Janson on Jan. 27.

North Iowans are fortunate that NIACC and the Surf continue to present quality entertainment close to home and, in many cases, at much more reasonable ticket prices.

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Burlington Hawk Eye. January 5, 2017

Are the rules for others?

We applauded Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad when he signed the bill creating the Iowa Public Information Board. It was a six-year effort to create a state agency crafted to look out for Iowans when it came to dealing with the state’s various government entities.

Citizens who thought government was withholding public information or government bodies were conducting illegal secret meetings would now have, supposedly, an independent state agency that would look into their case and, if the agency found the governmental body did break the law, it could order remedies.

But the governor said he’d only sign the legislation so long as the executive branch - his office - was exempt from it.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was a step toward greater government transparency, so open government advocates accepted the governor’s demand.

In signing the legislation, Branstad said he was a proponent of transparency in government operations - except when it comes to him, apparently.

The story published Tuesday from the Associated Press’ Ryan Foley notes a charity controlled by Branstad missed a deadline for disclosing the names of donors who paid for his 2015 inaugural celebration. The lack of disclosure, Foley writes, could cost the charity $100 per day in penalties to the Internal Revenue Service, retroactive to Nov. 15, when the information was due.

Naturally, the Branstad camp said it’s not hiding anything, the inaugural group disbanded and getting the necessary information is now a challenge. They said they’ll file an amended tax return to take care of the delinquent filing.

The list of donors who provided money to a Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund, donations that are public, raises some eyebrows. UnitedHealthcare gave $10,000. A few months later, the Branstad administration gave it a major contract when it moved the state to privatized health care. Riverside Casino and Golf Resort chipped in $25,000, while at the same time the casino lobbied the administration to reject a proposal to give a casino license for another casino in Cedar Rapids. Riverside said a Cedar Rapids casino would hurt its business.

We’ll accept the governor has been a proponent of transparency and open government - for the most part. Iowans should appreciate that. But he clearly gets a little skittish when it comes to his office. For that, Iowans should be concerned.

He’ll be resigning soon to become ambassador to China.

Kim Reynolds will be taking over as governor. We hope she not only continues Branstad’s push toward transparency, but expands on it to include the executive branch.

All branches of government are accountable to Iowans.

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Quad-City Times. January, 6, 2017.

Sunday Editorial: Without access, police body cameras won’t live up to promise

Police body cameras would restore public trust, proponents said. They would infuse transparency into the murky, complicated human interactions in which officers daily find themselves, they promised. They would be a hard defense against police abuse, they swore.

So many promises. So little transparency to see it through.

In the past two years, proponents of body cameras - often police departments themselves - made a lot of promises about the expensive, potentially invasive technology. But as last week’s denial of a Freedom of Information request by Bettendorf’s city attorney proves, the promise of body cameras hinges on Iowa lawmakers’ commitment to presumed transparency.

So far, they’ve done nothing, opting instead to permit Iowa’s Freedom of Information Act to fall further out of date.

The body camera problem is mounting throughout the country. Only six state legislatures have shown the grit to update FOIA to include the new technology. In almost all cases, state lawmakers - often backed by the very same police unions that championed body cameras - have gutted the promised transparency by all but fully exempting the footage from public view. In North Carolina, for instance, the move was in direct response to fervor over a police shooting of yet another young, black man - ironic because it’s that very same issue that first propelled body cameras into the forefront of modern policing.

Quashing public access superseded accountability.

Iowa, on the other hand, has done nothing. In many respects, it’s no better than North Carolina’s crackdown. Body cameras achieve their oft-stated purpose only if the public has access to questionable cases.

Make no mistake, there’s very real privacy concerns surrounding the footage. Dash board footage is confined to a cruiser’s anterior view. Officers wearing body cameras catch significantly more intimate moments, often inside people’s homes, police regularly note. Clearly, any update to Iowa’s FOIA should include specific exemptions for these scenarios. It would have to exempt video integral to an active investigation.

That’s all fair. But fostering a situation where body camera footage is, by default, shielded from public view is not.

Illinois’ FOIA offers sweeping exemptions for body camera footage, which troubles many watchdogs. But, at the very least, it generally requires release following a police-involved shooting. Iowa’s FOIA should require the release of any video associated with a police-involved shooting. That requirement alone would compel Bettendorf to release last month’s shooting of a man wielding an airsoft-type toy weapon in Home Depot. It should require the release of any video related to founded allegations of an officer’s abuse of power.

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