Under pressure from student paper, Iowa university task force opens meetings

IOWA— Subcommittees of an Iowa State University task force investigating ariot have decided to comply with state open-meetings statutes after thestudent-run Iowa State Daily and a local paper published articles andeditorials bringing the issue into the public eye.After a riot and otherdisturbances marred the 2004 Veishea celebration on April 18, Iowa StatePresident Gregory Geoffroy suspended the event for 2005. Veishea is a weeklongcelebration at ISU that includes a parade, open houses and stageand musical productions.Geoffroy also created the 2004 Task Force onAssuring Successful Veishea and Other Student/Community Celebrations to“develop recommendations for minimizing the likelihood of similardisturbances in the future,” he stated in a letter to the campuscommunity.At the task force’s first meeting on May 27, the groupdecided to split into three working groups. The working groups were to meetoutside of the regular task force meetings to develop background material andreport back to the full task force, said Catherine Woteki, task force chairwomanand dean of the ISU College of Agriculture. The task force also decidedthat the working groups would not have to strictly follow Iowa’sopen-meetings statutes by not giving advance notice of the meetings. The Iowaopen-meetings statute requires governmental bodies to give the time, date andplace of each meeting, and its tentative agenda at least 24 hours prior to themeeting “unless for good cause such notice is impossible orimpractical.” “There was a commitment that was made veryclear at that first open meeting that all of our work was going to be discussedin public,” Woteki said.However, it was at the first meeting thatthe task force discussed not following the open-meetings statute.“As was discussed at the public meeting that we had, our legal counsel indicated that the open-[meetings] law for the state of Iowa doesn’t applyto this kind of task force,” said.Lucas Grundmeier, Iowa StateDaily editor, wrote Woteki a letter articulating the paper’s problemswith the alleged open-meetings violations. “One of the policiesthat came out of this first meeting was a policy that the working group meetingswould be closed in that they would not be providing public notice ofthem,” Grundmeier said. “Basically, they would just try to get thepeople in the working groups together whenever they could and then they wouldmeet.” An Iowa State Daily article and an editorial inThe Tribune, the Ames, Iowa, newspaper, caused the task force tore-evaluate its decision.“What we’ve decided to do becauseof some public concern was to make the working group meetings open,”Woteki said.The working groups now post advanced notice of when theywill meet and their agendas on the task force’s Website.Grundmeier said the task force has not acknowledged that theopen-meetings statutes pertain to it and is only “in good faith complyingwith the stipulations of the open-meetings law.”Grundmeier addedthat he was notified in advance of the next working group meeting and that anIowa State Daily staff writer reported no problems covering it.