State Council: Journalist’s Complaint Against Iowa Workforce Development “Founded”

Iowa Capital Dispatch’s claim that Iowa Workforce Development violated the state’s open records law while failing to deliver its director’s text messages to “merit,” a state panel ruled Thursday.

The Iowa Public Information Council ruled that the news agency’s formal complaint against the state agency is “legally sufficient” and “has merit”, in addition to being within the purview of the board.

Clark Kauffman, deputy editor of the Capital Dispatch, filed a complaint about his request for emails and texts from director Beth Townsend. The board will now negotiate an informal settlement between the agency and Kauffman.

Beth Townsend is director of Iowa Workforce Development. (Screenshot from Iowa PBS)

When staff at the Public Information Council asked Iowa Workforce Development for its policy on handling document requests, they did not get a clear answer, state attorneys said. The agency provided a copy of the State Records Manual, which explains case management but not how to deal with open case requests.

Kauffman’s complaint centered on two central information requests.

On April 29, he requested all the exhibits filed in an unemployment case involving an Iowa County attorney. Iowa Workforce Development provided 17 pages of documents and twice indicated that this was all the documentation the agency had. When Kauffman noted that a judge had referred to at least 65 exhibits, the agency handed over an additional 380 pages of documents.

Kauffman argues that the state broke the law by failing to turn over the records and falsely claiming that 17 pages of records were all the state had on the matter.

The press organization is looking for emails, texts

In a second situation, Kauffman was denied an interview with Townsend regarding unemployment fraud. He asked her for emails and texts for a period of 11 weeks.

Kauffman called on Iowa Workforce Development to “take immediate action” to preserve the records. The state did not respond to seven requests from Kauffman for information on how the state intended to keep the records.

The agency referred Kauffman to Verizon for the text messages and said the emails would cost $ 3,846 to view.

On Thursday, Iowa Workforce Development attorney David Steen reiterated the agency’s position that the records were kept in two separate sections, resulting in an oversight. The agency changed its procedures to resolve the issue, he argued.

“We had absolutely no incentive to deny him documents about this,” Steen told board members at their meeting.

Steen said the agency had never received an SMS request before. Agency officials believed Verizon would have more complete records than the phone Townsend uses for state business.

Verizon told Iowa Workforce Development that it retains text message content for five to seven days before deleting it, but keeps a record of time and parties involved in a text longer.

Public information board members Monica McHugh from Zwingle and EJ Giovannetti from Urbandale both said officials should keep emails and texts in public view. Giovannetti is the former mayor of Urbandale and a former Supervisor of Polk County.

“There is something out there,” McHugh said. “I think that’s something the agency would provide. This worries me that after five days, there is no more documentation … This one bothers me a lot.

Giovannetti accepted. “Current affairs, whether it be emails or text messages, should be kept for more than five to seven days. If Verizon isn’t keeping it, then they should go to someone who keeps it.

Board attorney Zach Goodrich said the workforce development agency had failed to respond to questions from the state on why it had failed to respond to seven inquiries from Kauffman explaining how the state would keep records, other than “send it to Verizon.”


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