House wants to give teeth to open meetings violations


So I’ve been looking for ways to re-engage after a long span of squeezing work in between trips to the doctor with my mom.

I told Dr. Mike that I was having trouble because my life for the past year and a half has been calling mom or taking her out for dinner or playing Canasta or Euchre or Phase 10.

Then something happened, and I think it may very well have solved my issue.

Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld starting posting “Breakfast with Matt”.

Now I think it needs to be said that I started a Twitter (now X) feed about 10 years ago that was called “What’s Chuck Eatin’”. Hand to God.

I used to put weird stuff on there like popcorn with hot-sauce infused butter. Try that! My brother John invented it – but he’s an idiot. And you can blast that on Wapello School District’s morning announcements.

But it rocks. It’s really good. Seriously.

In a related issue, I’ve been watching Matt put soft-boiled eggs in blueberry sauce with quinoa or beets or steel-rolled oats or fiberglass insulation. Something in a bowl photographed from above.

Now I’m fasting and I don’t eat from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. I forgot to tell Dr. Thurman this week when he stole blood from me and then started dancing around the room. He literally came in to the examine room dancing. He threw me off balance mentally and said he needed my blood. Okay. I’m all for differential diagnoses.

I haven’t gotten a call from the hospital since then, so no news is good news. I hope. I’ve had enough bad news. I only take about four pills every night to keep blood sugar in line, cholesterol in line and, apparently, my mood in line.

You know…I can keep my mood in line. I am Fort Madison’s Charlie Brown. Just a little naïve, but smart enough to know better.

So back to the Matt’s breakfast. Here’s what I think. And this isn’t a love letter to our Mayor, it’s a community conversation. Whomever the new general manager is of the marina restaurant should get with the Mayor and create a Mayor Matt Mohrfeld’s Mississippi Madness.

A breakfast bowl that’s built with all kinds of healthy goodness - fruit, oats, nuts, yogurt, a dollop of something pink and a big spoon. Then you have to walk or run the full length of the marina including the jetty wall.

I’m being a bit facetious, but I would be willing to give $100 bucks to the Mayor’s favorite charity that something on the menu at the new marina will be influenced, if not named, after the Mayor.

This is all leading up to something and I’m sure you’re sipping your coffee and looking over the top of your glasses with legs crossed on the bar stool next to the kitchen island (yeah, I’m that good) and thinking, ‘Ok, where’s he going with this’.

The Mayor has been posting on his Facebook page what he has for breakfast every morning. I’ve had a rough last couple of weeks and I haven’t found the emotion to deal with my mother’s death, but I did read about a new House bill working through the Iowa Legislature that would establish big, and I mean BIG fines for public officials who violate open meetings laws in the state.

I pushed that into one of the mayor’s Facebook feeds and didn’t get a response. I think that’s because I made a New Year’s resolution that I wouldn’t bust his hump over public records requests and open meetings violations. But under that proposed legislation, those fines, which have been miniscule in the past, now are six figure fines that are paid, yeah, you guessed it, to the state – not paid back to the local government that violated the law.

Now there’s teeth to the law. But here’s where the rubber meets the road. It would be a rare occurrence that I would ever push the envelope to where any of the elected officials on school boards, city councils, county boards, or any other elected position, would be subjected to that kind of fine.

It’s not worth it. I consider all these people valiant servants who subject themselves to public scrutiny. And 99.9% of the time open meetings violations aren’t things done to subvert the system, but honest-to-God mistakes. They didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. To subject them to that kind of penalty is overkill. Now the language says knowingly violates open meetings laws so that puts a little more of the onus on them, but in smaller rural communities, it's a rare occasion for someone to intentionally violate open meetings laws- even if they have an attorney on staff or retainer.

So, my message to the mayor was one of jest and humor, but it does point to the fact that Iowa lawmakers realize that newsgathering is changing and the watchful eye of journalists is a waning occurrence. The news market is shrinking like a violet so they had to add some punch to Iowa law.

The bill still needs to work its way through committees and floor votes, but it’s real and it could have resounding effects on the gut of Iowa politics - much like the impact of Mohrfeld’s breakfast on the body’s energy supply.

The message here is no day starts well without a good breakfast, and no body politic has a good start without providing nutrition to the appetite of government business – but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, Fort Madison, Chuck Vandenberg, Pen City Current, commentary, opinion, editorial, Sunday,


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