Governor is correct – more transparency needed

Gov. Kim Reynolds talked last week about the importance of government leaders keeping other government officials looped in as decisions are made and events unfold. 

The governor was more correct than she probably intended. I will get to that shortly.  

But first, here is some important background on the governor’s statement — because she and I see eye to eye on this, at least as it relates to the issue that provoked her displeasure with federal officials. 

Reynolds was talking about the federal government’s secret chartered flight with migrant children from California that landed in Des Moines in the middle of the night on April 22. As we learned a month later, 19 refugee kids got off the plane, with all but two boarding chartered buses for destinations in other states. Two of the children were picked up at the airport by their Iowa sponsors. 

For two weeks, representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services insisted to the governor and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley that their agencies were not involved in any chartered flight. 

To be frank, they were lying. On May 21, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement finally admitted to Grassley the office had chartered the Des Moines flight. 

In a letter to Grassley last week, Reynolds asked for a Senate oversight hearing into the Biden administration’s failure to provide notice and transparency in the government’s movement of migrant children to various states while their immigration cases are being decided. 

“These experiences sow seeds of mistrust in our communities and work to intentionally subvert the will of the people for a secure border and a clear, lawful immigration process,” her letter stated. 

“Additionally, the federal government’s failure to provide advance notification to states places an undue burden on our law enforcement partners to determine whether these types of flights constitute a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.” 

I agree with the governor. Transparency is better than secrecy, with rare exceptions. And a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is an appropriate means of getting on-the-record answers from homeland security and from health and human services officials. 

But the governor would be wise to go back and reread her letter to Grassley.  

This time, she should put herself in the shoes of so many local government officials, school leaders and county public health officials in Iowa who were caught by surprise when the governor announced decisions during the Covid pandemic without bothering to first loop local officials in on what was coming. 

These local officials were left scrambling at the last minute to adapt to her decisions, sometimes with only a few hours to act. 

This is no way for the federal government to act. Likewise, it is no way for state government to act, either. 

For example, public school officials in Iowa awoke on the morning of May 20 to learn that after midnight the governor had signed into a law legislation prohibiting school districts and local governments from continuing to require masks to be worn. 

By the time principals and superintendents awoke, the law already was in force and their policies and practices had to change before classes began just a few hours later. 

They had precious little time to inform their employees about the new law and how to handle mask issues arising that day. 

In January, Reynolds signed a new law requiring public and private school districts to make in-person classes available five days a week to parents who choose that option for their children — even though some school districts had been struggling for weeks with shortages of substitute teachers, bus drivers and lunchroom workers. 

Reynolds decided in April to return $95 million to the federal government that had been provided for Covid tests in Iowa schools, from kindergarten through college. The governor said the money was not needed — although school leaders said she had not conferred with them before making that decision. 

Dr. Eli Perencevich, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, told reporters after the governor’s action became public that routine Covid testing of students and employees could help slow the spread of the disease. 

Such testing could help prevent the Covid outbreak in Iowa City in the spring when hundreds of K-12 students were infected with the virus or exposed to it, he said. Similar outbreaks could continue this fall because many Iowans, especially children, have not been vaccinated. 

While some people disagree with the decisions Reynolds made, and others believe she acted appropriately each time, one indisputable fact remains:  

The governor did not have the same focus on looping local officials in ahead of time so they had adequate time to change their policies and practices. And in the end, that is what she was criticizing the Biden administration for failing to do. 

I doubt Reynolds wants an investigation of her actions, however.

Randy Evans is the Executive Director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com. The Pen City Current is a member of the IFOIC.

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