Thursday, February 15, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 390 - Feb. 15

Feb. 15, 9:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. (commentary on "confidential applications")

Yesterday the commentary came first and the links (at least to the SILO stories) were added last night. Today a full day's schedule of student conferences requires a similar choice. But this time the stories from yesterday and today are being posted in the morning with but brief identifying text. Moreover, to make this possible those 15 stories are all contained in one file, indicated and linked below. Within it there are links to the stories it contains.

There has been news with regard to a number of the subject matter areas tracked by this blog.

Mary Gilchrist and her proposal, picked up by at least one legislator, to rethink the Hybienic Lab's governance. The Daily Iowan has editorialized in favor of getting the Hygienic Lab out from under UI administrators. (No ruling from the judge yet, so far as I can find out, regarding her lawsuit against the University for firing her.)

The Regents. The Register has been looking through the applications for positions in the Iowa government received by the Governor. It did a story on the 50 who've applied to be on the Board of Regents. The Press-Citizen followed, with some local names not mentioned by the Register. (It's an interesting story both in terms of Search Committee II's insistence that the applications it receives must be "confidential" versus the "public records" status accorded those received by the Governor, and also the ongoing question no one seems to want to address: "What about Michael Gartner?")

Prison alternatives. I accept that those who put anonymous comments into this blog regarding the need for a new Johnson County Jail know a lot more about those issues than I do. But I continue my interest (whether it is applicable to the Johnson County Jail or not) in alternatives to prison as our nation's number one publc housing program -- especially for our mentally ill. The Register reports that Iowa's growth in prison population is among the greatest in the midwest, and has editorialized regarding the need for exploring alternatives to this costly approach to crime control.

E-Mail, open meetings and public records. Gartner has proposed that e-mails going to five or more regents (a quorum) will be posted on the Regents' Web site. Predictably the editorial response from the Register and Press-Citizen (and me) is that he's entitled to credit for this move -- but it's only a step in the right direction.

The UI athletics-gambling partnership. John Metz thinks the UI-Iowa Lottery commercial is a "Misguided Sales Pitch." Linda Detroy Alexander ("UI, Lottery Longtime Lovers") and The Daily Iowan join the chorus of those willing to talk about the propriety of the specific commercial (especially now that the UI is threatened with suit for copyright violation) but are seemingly unconcerned about the gambling industry tie to the UI, and its athletics program, as such. As I conceded yesterday, I so far know of no one who shares my concern on this score.

Graduate student abuse? Amy J. Walsh charges a number of ways in which UI's graduate students are "abused." I have no way of knowing what's going on. If there is mistreatment it ought to be investigated and stopped regardless of what other Big 10 schools are doing. But she also contends Iowa is much worse than the others.

Meredith Hay. I reported yesterday the news from the Albuquerque Tribune (with a link from yesterday's blog entry) that the UI's Vice President for Research is one of two finalists for the presidency at the University of New Mexico. Today's DI also reports the story. If she ends up being picked, and leaves, she will be just one more in what is becoming a depressingly long list of departures of quality people from the UI during the reign of the current Regents' leadership.

John Colloton and "emeritus." The Daily Iowan has a story about the UI's emeritus program in general, and the Press-Citizen has a column from a couple of John Colloton's fans taking on the Press-Citizen. Not incidentally, I think the Press-Citizen is entitled to a lot of recognition and praise for its commitment to a free and open discussion in its pages -- up to and including those who wish to beat on it.

Optiva. Tim Taffe has an op ed in this morning's Press-Citizen on the UICCU's insistence on becoming "Optiva," and what some irate UICCU members are trying to do about it ("Pressure UICCU to Hold New Election").


"When is a 'confidential application' not a confidential application?" Yesterday I wrote:

"And now, please, someone explain to me why it is that the applications of those seeking jobs from the Governor are public records (and therefore material that can/must be discussed in open meetings) but that those applying to Search Committee II for the job as president of a state university are confidential, cannot be revealed, and will be discussed only in secret, closed meetings? (I don't mean to pass judgment; I'm assuming there is an explanation. When I get some time I may research it myself.)"

Well, here's what I've come up with. Bottom line: Whether to hold applications "confidential" (i.e., not subject to the public records law) lies within the discretion of the government body (in the case posed, either the Governor's office or Search Committee II). So why the seeming disparity in their treatment of applications? Because they chose to exercize their discretion differently.

[Background. Iowa Code Chapter 21 requires multi-headed government bodies to do their deliberation and deciding in meetings open to the media and public. Sec. 21.3. It provides for some circumstances when meetings may be closed (and the procedure to be followed when closing an otherwise open meeting). Sec. 21.5. One of those circumstances is when the body is discussing confidential documents. Sec. 21.5 (1) (a). (It reads: "A governmental body may hold a closed session . . . to review or discuss records which are required or authorized . . . to be kept confidential . . .." I am interpreting this language to mean records which the body has chosen to keep confidential in fact, not records which they would have been "authorized" to have kept confidential had they so chosen, but which they chose instead to treat as public records.)

That's what takes us to Chapter 22, which deals with "public records," defined in the act as "all records . . . of or belonging to this state . . .." Sec. 22.1 (3). (This would presumably include applications in the possession of Search Committee II.) The Chapter also has exceptions for "confidential" documents. Sec. 22.7. One of those exceptions involves documents the body feels citizens would be less likely to provide the agency if citizens knew the documents, and the sender's identity, would be made public. Sec. 22.7 (18). Search Committee II believes this exception entitles it to treat as "confidential," and thus enables it to discuss in secret, the applications of individuals applying for the University of Iowa presidency.]

Let's start with this. What do we mean by "confidential"? What are the degrees of confidentiality? (Of course, a court order might require the release of documents in any of the following categories.)

(a) A document held by a governmental body might be "confidential" in the sense that it is available to no one except for employees specifically authorized to see it. The body is legally forbidden to release it to anyone outside the body.
(b) It might be otherwise confidential, but available to the person about whom it relates (as with the federal Privacy Act).
(c) It might be confidential in the sense that the body may choose to keep it confidential, but it is not required to do so. It cannot be forced to release it but it may, in its own discretion, choose to make it a "public record."
(d) Finally, it might be confidential in no sense; that is, it is legally defined as a public record which the body is legally required to make available upon request by the media or a member of the public, regardless of the body's (or a citizen's) desire to keep it confidential.

Sec. 22.7 begins, "The following public records shall be kept confidential, unless otherwise ordered . . . by the lawful custodian of the records . . .." ("Lawful custodian" is defined as "the governmental body currently in physical possession of the public record." Sec. 22.1(2).) This opening provision, in effect, nulifies everything that follows in Sec. 22.7; that is, given that the "lawful custodian" can order that any otherwise confidential document will be treated as a public record, Section 22.7 defines the level of confidentiality in (c), in the paragraph above. (Search Committee II, say, could choose to treat all the applications it receives as public records -- or, if it chooses, treat them as confidential -- if it can make the finding required by Sec. 22.7(18). And, to remind, if it treats them as public records any discussion of them by the Committee must be in open meeting; if it treats them as confidential they may be discussed in closed meeting.)

The latter sub-section provides that the body may treat applications as confidential records if "the government body . . . could reasonably believe that [the applicants] would be discouraged from [applying] if [their applications] were available for general public examination." Sec. 22.7(18). As noted, however, this is not a requirement that they be kept confidential, it is only a grant of discretion to the body if "the lawful custodian of the records" declines to release them.

So what are all the ways that a "confidential" application might become a "public record" available to media and public?
(1) The custodian orders the release of the application. Sec. 22.7.
(2) The custodian does not release the application, but the body is unable to make the finding that it "could reasonably believe" confidentiality is required in order for it to acquire such applications in the first place. It concludes that people will apply for the job whether their applications are made public or not. Sec. 22.7 (18).
(3) The body is able to make the finding of Sec. 22.7(18), but "the person . . . making the [application] consents to its treatment as a public record." Sec. 22.7(18)(a).
(4) Regardless of what the body and the applicant desire, the application "is a public record to the extent that it can be disclosed without . . . indicating the identity of the [applicant] . . .." Sec. 22.7(18)(b).
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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Stories and Editorials -- Range of Subjects -- February 14 and 15, 2007

Editorial, Transfer of Hygienic Lab from UI to State Oversight Would Benefit All, The Daily Iowan

Jonathan Roos, 50 Pursue Open Regents Spot, Des Moines Register

Brian Morelli, More Than 50 Apply for Board Positions, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Editorial, Let's Not Be 'Leader' In Prison Growth, Des Moines Register

William Petroski, Iowa Prison Growth to Eclipse Neighbors But S.D., Study Says, Des Moines Register

Editorial, Credit Regents for Posting E-Mails; Now Expand Idea, Des Moines Register

Editorial, Regents Step in Right Direction With E-Mail Policy, Iowa City Press-Citizen

John Metz, Misguided Sales Pitch, Des Moines Register

Linda Detroy Alexander, UI, Lottery Longtime Lovers, The Gazette

Editorial, Fight Song Controversy Should Prompt Increased Athletics Oversight, The Daily Iowan

Amy J. Walsh, Don't Allow Graduate Students to be Abused by University, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Matt Nelson, N.M. Faculty Back Hay, The Daily Iowan

Terry McCoy, UI Defends Emeritus Status, The Daily Iowan

Tim Taffe, Pressure UICCU to Hold New Election, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Robert A. Rasley and Kenneth H. Yerington, If Only We Could Return to Colloton Era, Iowa City Press-Citizen


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John Barleykorn said...

I think that the American Society should have a serious discussion about issues such as drugs. We should at a minimum decriminalize marijuana. It's a hypocritical farce that it is illegal and alcohol isn't. Our leadership at the highest levels is failing to address some of the major issues of our day.

What is mentally ill? and what is criminal? Should we put more mental health resources into prisons?

John Neff said...

There are two broad categories of MH and criminal justice system interaction. 1) The police make a MH arrest and take them to jail because they lack a viable alternative and 2) because a mentally ill person has committed a crime.

We have finally have a system in place to move the first type out of jail by reconnecting them to the MH delivery system. If the crime committed in the second type is sufficiently serious they could be sentenced to prison.

In prison we have mentally ill prisoners in the general population which can work in some instances and is a big problem in others. We also mentally ill prisoners in special facilities which does not mean that the treatment is up to standard.

Dr. White noted that a wide variation in the attitude of the prison staff toward the mentally ill prisoners. Some considered them to be primarily prisoners who happened to be mentally and other considered them to be primarily mentally ill persons who happened to be prisoners. The public and the legislature and other government officials have the same range of views.

We should put more MH resources into our prisons in my opinion.