- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The new lawyer for the Iowa Public Information Board has resigned after a brief but rocky tenure, during which he angered open government advocates and faced questions about the accuracy of his resume.

Legal counsel Travis Starr is departing Tuesday after less than six months in his position, board director Margaret Johnson said.

The board is responsible for helping interpret Iowa’s open records and meetings laws and resolving complaints about alleged violations. Its opinions can set precedents for the public’s ability to access information and what local and state agencies must do to comply.

Starr had outraged open government advocates by issuing a draft opinion that concluded state agencies can keep their board members’ private email addresses secret even when they use them for official business. Board members pushed back against Starr’s opinion - which found email addresses were confidential personal information - and declined to adopt it in May after critics argued it was legally wrong and would make it harder for citizens to contact public officials.

Johnson then abandoned the opinion, substituting it with her own that found private email addresses used for government work should be treated as public records. The board deadlocked on that opinion last week during a meeting in which Starr was silent.

Johnson said Starr was not asked to resign and that his performance had not been evaluated. She said she’s planning to advertise to fill the job again, a process that could take months that she went through last year. She said she expects the applicant pool will be limited because the job only pays $50,000 and requires long hours and a thick skin due to criticism from unhappy complainants.

“It’s not easy working here - you take a lot of abuse,” Johnson said. She said Starr “was really surprised by the level of vitriol.”

Johnson had hired Starr over 31 other applicants even though his previous job with state government didn’t end well, records show.

Starr was hired by Iowa Workforce Development in 2016 as the director of a unit in its unemployment insurance division that investigates employers’ misclassification of workers as independent contractors. He resigned in March 2017 after two superiors told him he would not be “kept in the employ” of IWD beyond his six-month probationary period, according to his resignation letter obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law.

Starr, who had spent most of his career as a business lawyer in Arkansas, applied for the public information board job last year. He wrote on his application and resume that he left IWD because “the agency reorganized.” He added that the misclassification unit was being reduced from nine workers to three “due to budget cuts” and moved into a different bureau under two different managers.

“I resigned my managerial post in lieu of being told there would no longer be a place for me or the workers within the Integrity Bureau due to the reorganization,” he wrote.

IWD Director Beth Townsend told AP that the unit was “moved for management purposes,” that the reorganization was not motivated by budget cuts and that there was no staffing changes in the unit at that time. She declined comment on Starr’s performance.

Starr declined an interview request and ignored written questions about his IWD tenure emailed to him weeks ago. He didn’t return phone and email messages this week.

Johnson said she was not misled by Starr’s resume, saying she spoke with IWD officials about why his job hadn’t worked out. She also said that he didn’t have any less experience in open records and meetings issues than other applicants.

In his application, Starr wrote that he was familiar with “government accountability” and “transparency” in part because he is the volunteer board chairman for a nonprofit that runs early childhood education programs and has state contracts. He said he had “something truly outstanding” to offer the board.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide