The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 8, 2013

Gartner goes to bat in name of open meetings

The Clinton Herald

---- — Dubuque Telegraph-Herald

A pat on the back for Michael Gartner, the Des Moines journalist, free-speech champion, businessman and majority owner of the Iowa Cubs.

A couple of the selling points of the new Iowa Public Information Board are that the board can educate public officials about their legal obligations and that, if necessary, citizens without deep pockets may seek legal relief without the huge expense of filing a lawsuit.

Someone with deep pockets, Gartner, struck a blow for openness when he sued Iowa Public Radio, a creation of the Iowa Board of Regents, for violating state open meetings laws. (Gartner, a former regent, initiated legal proceedings before the Public Information Board opened for business July 1.)

IPR board members early this year met in secret a couple of times, including the session in which they fired their executive director. They claimed that they didn’t need to comply with the law. An attorney general’s opinion thought otherwise, and IPR and Gartner, whose ballpark displays the First Amendment, reached a legal settlement.

IPR agreed to not break the open meetings law again (at least not for five years). Plus, in true Gartner-esque fashion, rather than go after them for money, he got IPR to agree to air public service announcements -- don’t call them commercials -- promoting the Iowa Public Information Board at least daily for six months.

Let’s hope that all public bodies are listening.