Journalists guide to Iowa courts now available

Reporters who cover Iowa courts have a new resource that will help them access electronic court records.

The new resource is a guide for using the Iowa Court Information System (ICIS), a computer program created when the Iowa Judicial Branch began converting court records from paper to electronic.

The ICIS program was designed for Iowa news media in collaboration with the Iowa Newspaper Association to give reporters the ability to search for court filings on a daily basis or within a specified range of dates. Users are charged 50 cents per page for printouts listing newly filed court documents.

The new guide explains how to find the program on these terminals, how to log on and how to conduct a search. The guide also has a list of user names and passwords for logging into the program on public terminals at individual Iowa county courthouses.

Grant Rodgers of The Des Moines Register regularly uses the ICIS program. “I use it every few weeks to sort through new civil lawsuits that have been filed in Polk County. How often I do it varies depending on what’s happening.”

Jared Strong of The Daily Times Herald in Carroll said, “We use this in four counties on a weekly basis. In Carroll, I run them on Wednesdays for our weekly roundup of what’s been disposed of in court. The other papers we own use them in the same way, though on different days.”

The new guide was collaborative effort of the Iowa Judicial Branch, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and the Iowa Newspaper Association.

The guide can be found here. A Guide to using the Iowa Court Information System search program[5906]

Court declines to review open meetings ruling

By Rox Laird
On Brief: Iowa’s Appellate Blog

In December the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that the Harrison County Board of Supervisors violated the Iowa open meetings law.

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s decision.

That leaves in place the lower court’s ruling that the Harrison County supervisors violated the law when they twice went into closed session to discuss the threat of litigation. It also leaves in place the Appeals Court’s order that the three supervisors each pay $200 in fines and split the plaintiff’s trial and appellate fees estimated at nearly $25,000.

The supervisors were acting in their capacity as trustees for an agricultural drainage district at the time of the closed meetings. The topic of discussion was a threat of litigation in the wake of a dispute over the condition of a levee maintained by the drainage district. Two Harrison County farmers brought the open meetings lawsuit.

The open meetings law provides an exception for closed sessions “[t]o discuss strategy with counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation.”

No legal counsel was present at either closed session, however.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the supervisors’ argument that there was no violation of the law because the meetings were closed on the advice of legal counsel. That’s because the law requires that such advice from counsel be “given in writing” or “memorialized in the minutes of the meeting at which a formal oral opinion was given.”

In this case, however, the supervisors did not receive a written opinion from counsel and “no counsel directly provided oral advice to the trustees at any time before or during the meeting.”

Fighting to help you gain access to public records

By Carol Hunter
Des Moines Register executive editor

Casino gambling is not just any business.

Last year, gamblers plunked $13.7 billion into slot machines in Iowa, and casinos kept $1.3 billion of that.

Iowans know that because the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission maintains detailed public records about casino operations.

Casinos must obtain licenses from the commission, whose mission is “to protect the public and to assure the integrity of licensed facilities.” There’s so much money at stake that the state requires precautions to ward off potential infiltration by organized crime or other swindlers.

But two bills moving forward in the Legislature would keep secret some audit information now available to the public. Although basic information such as the amount wagered would still be available, the industry is pushing confidentiality for other information for competitive reasons, saying it amounts to trade secrets. Trade secrets are typically exempt from Iowa’s open records law, but again, casinos aren’t a typical industry.

As a recent Register editorial put it: “Gambling has the potential to wreak havoc on lives and communities, which is why we require them to operate in the light.”

The Register is dedicated to protecting the public’s right to know, through news coverage of attempts to keep information secret, through the bully pulpit of our editorial page and when necessary through litigation.

This work isn’t about making reporters’ and editors’ jobs easier. It’s about upholding the principle that the public should have access to records that the government maintains on the public’s behalf.

State law at first glance appears straightforward in protecting public access: “Every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record or the information contained in a public record.”

But through the years, special interests have piled on a list of exceptions, now numbering 69.

“In spite of government officials’ pronouncements about supporting transparency, they are constantly looking for ways to shut the public out,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and a former Register opinion editor.

The Register and other open-records advocates wage a never-ending battle to ward off more exceptions and to enforce existing provisions.

For example, state law clearly bars government agencies from keeping lawsuit settlements secret. Yet for months, Crawford County Memorial Hospital, a public hospital owned by the county’s taxpayers, refused to release how much it paid a widower of a patient whose death was blamed on a botched colonoscopy.

It took legal action by the Carroll Daily Times Herald and the Freedom of Information Council to force the hospital to disclose the $500,000 settlement.

Another ongoing dispute involves the names of passengers on university planes piloted by Iowa State University President Steven Leath. A special state audit was conducted into his use of the planes, and he has admitted he flew them more than necessary, but the university refuses to release passenger names. The Register is pursuing their release in a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board.

Also of concern:

  • A bill is working its way through the Legislature that would make confidential the names of government volunteers. That could conceivably include volunteer firefighters, EMTs and people who do volunteer work with children. Such volunteer work is laudable, but the public should know volunteers’ identities and critical information such as criminal history.
  • The University of Iowa is citing federal copyright law to block release of video its employees shot during the 2008 floods.
  • Police departments across Iowa are now using body cameras to record video of officers’ interactions with the public, a welcome step toward greater transparency and accountability, which I believe in most instances will show officers have acted responsibly. But individual agencies are developing a patchwork of policies on when video will be released. With narrow exceptions to protect the identity of crime victims and informants, state law should require that body-camera video be made public. Otherwise, its potential value to help determine the truth and to build trust in police agencies will be lost.

“Government entities do not belong to the people who work for government,” Evans said. “The universities and state and local government belong to the people of Iowa.”

And the people of Iowa deserve access to the records produced by their government.

To learn more

  • The Iowa Freedom of Information Council can answer questions about Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws:, or 515-745-0041.
  • The Iowa Public Information Board has easy-to-use forms for asking questions or filing complaints:

W.D.M. skirts meetings law with phone calls

By Kim Norvell
Des Moines Register

West Des Moines’ city manager circumvented the “intent of the open meetings law” when he called City Council members to gauge where they stand on a controversial Statehouse bill that would dismantle water utility boards, according to the director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

City Manager Tom Hadden said he “canvassed” council members one on one before directing the city’s lobbyist to register in support of House File 484, which would directly affect West Des Moines Water Works.

Hadden said the phone calls met Iowa’s open meetings requirement because there was no formal vote on an action item.

But Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said the city manager’s telephone poll is “a clear-cut case” of trying to get around the state law.

“The government of West Des Moines belongs to the citizens of West Des Moines,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to the city manager and the City Council members, and they have a duty to let the citizens of West Des Moines in on the process.”

Hadden said his canvass is a normal practice during the Legislative session because bills can be introduced and passed quickly.

“Things come so quick that a lot of time there’s no time for formal council action,” he said. “It’s a moving target. As the legislation moves forward and things change, we could take it to neutral or opposed before it’s all said and done.”

Iowa’s open meetings law requires cities to provide 24 hours’ notice before meeting in a public session. The bill was introduced Feb. 15 and amendments were approved Feb. 28 after legislators received input from area city managers and mayors. The city’s lobbyist registered in support of the bill March 2. The bill has since passed out of committee and is eligible for floor debate.

Councilman Kevin Trevillyan said he disagrees with phone polling. It strips the opportunity to discuss issues with other council members — a practice that could potentially change others’ minds, he said.

Trevillyan, who works as an engineering technician for West Des Moines Water Works, said decisions on how to direct lobbyists to register should be debated in public.

“(Without meeting in public) you can’t have open discussion. You can’t lay everything on the table,” Trevillyan said. “In my mind, consensus is the same thing as a vote.”

If the bill were to become law, Trevillyan would become and city employee and would no longer be able to serve on the City Council. He said the city manager did not call him directly about the issue. He says he’s against the bill because it would not be good for the citizens of West Des Moines.

Two complaints were filed with the Iowa Public Information Board in recent weeks alleging Des Moines violated the open meetings law when it met to discuss pending legislation. Des Moines registered support for HF 484 after that meeting.
Susan Huppert, vice chair of the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees, said a one-sentence agenda that simply read “2017 Legislative Issues” was a “deliberate attempt to not allow input from the public” on the issue.

The Iowa Public Information Board has not received any complaints on West Des Moines’ action.

Evans said he’s concerned that the city manager’s poll will set a precedent. He said it may be easier for the city to take this approach, but Iowa’s open records law recognizes there are emergencies and allows for telephonic meetings if the public can listen in.

“If the city manager can poll on whether to register for or against a piece of legislation, it would appear that the city manager could do the same thing for any controversial topic that is coming before the city council,” Evans said.

Iowa ‘sunshine’ law handbook now available

The most popular guide to Iowa’s public meetings and public records law has been updated for 2017 and is now available for purchase.

The Iowa Open Meetings, Open Records Handbook is published by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and is the go-to resource for government officials, journalists and interested citizens.

The handbook contains the complete text of Chapter 21 (the public meetings law), Chapter 22 (the public records law) and Chapter 23 (the Iowa Public Information Board law).

In addition, the handbook contains helpful questions and answers, rules of thumb to guide government officials and citizens, and other resources people can use.

Copies of the handbook are $2 each and can be ordered from the Iowa FOI Council in three ways. The price includes shipping.

  • Email:
  • Postal mail: P.O. Box 8002, Des Moines, IA 50301
  • Telephone: 515.745.0041

Payment in advance is not required. An invoice will be sent with each order.

Thousands of copies of the handbook are distributed each year as part of the FOI Council’s public education efforts to help officials and the public understand the terms of the state’s “sunshine” laws.

Judge’s order forces hospital to comply with law

District Judge Steven J. Adreasen issued an order on Friday, Feb. 24, directing the county hospital in Denison to release the settlement agreement that ended a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital.

The order came after a court hearing requested by the Carroll Daily Times Herald. Collin Davison, an attorney from Mason City, represented the newspaper and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council during the hearing.

The settlement grew out of the death of Carole Christiansen, who underwent a colonoscopy at the Crawford County Memorial Hospital in Denison.

Christiansen’s estate sued the hospital, and the case ended with a negotiated settlement between the estate and the hospital’s insurance carrier.

Hospital administrator Bill Bruce had refused numerous requests from journalists and a Denison resident to release a copy of the settlement agreement. He cited as justification the probate judge’s order sealing the contents of Mrs. Christiansen’s probate court file.

Iowa’s public records law specifically prohibits secret settlements.

Chapter 22.13 of the Iowa Code says, “When a government body reaches a final, binding, written settlement agreement that resolves a legal dispute claiming monetary damages, equitable relief, or a violation of a rule or statute, the government body shall, upon request and to the extend allowed under applicable law, prepare a brief summary of the resolution of the dispute indicating the identity of the parties involved, the nature of the dispute, and the terms of the settlement, including any payments made by or on behalf of the government body and any actions to be taken by the government body. … The settlement agreement and any required summary shall be a public record.”

Randy Evans, the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said in a statement after the court hearing on Friday:

“The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is grateful that after 10 months of ignoring its legal obligations, the Crawford County Memorial Hospital has finally released the terms of the settlement in the litigation growing out of the tragic death of Mrs. Christiansen.

“We just regret that the FOI Council and the Daily Times Herald had to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer to achieve what Iowa’s public records says in crystal-clear language — that government entities like the Crawford County hospital cannot enter into secret settlements in lawsuits.”

Evans continued: “The settlement was reached with the Christiansen family last April. Her estate was not closed and sealed until June. That provided two months for the hospital to release the settlement documents. But it did not.

“Once the documents in the probate court file were sealed, the hospital took the inexplicable position that the order sealing the court file trumped the open records law and documents that were in the possession of the hospital. The probate file included details about the Christiansens’ real estate holdings, but the Crawford County Recorder’s Office never tried to put the family’s real estate records in the courthouse off limits to the public.

“Iowa’s law that prohibits secret settlements involving government was written by the Legislature because lawmakers were keenly aware that the public should not be kept in the dark about these matters — even if the details prove embarrassing to government entities.”

Here is the Carroll Daily Times Herald’s report on the court hearing and settlement agreement:

DTH wins court fight
for secret settlement details

The Denison hospital revealed a $500,000 wrongful-death settlement on Friday that it had kept secret for months after the Daily Times Herald threatened to take legal action against the hospital to force its disclosure.

Crawford County Memorial Hospital and its insurer paid the money to the estate of Carole Christiansen, a 67-year-old Arion woman who died of complications from a botched colonoscopy at the hospital in 2014.

As part of the agreement, the hospital paid $100 to the estate “to keep the existence and terms of this settlement and the underlying negotiations confidential,” even though public entities are barred by law from engaging in confidential settlements.

Bill Bruce, the hospital’s chief executive, said this morning that he doesn’t know whether a hospital employee drafted the agreement or reviewed it before it was approved. Further, he refused to ask his employees whether any of them reviewed it.

“I don’t have a need to do that research,” he said. “I didn’t write it. I can tell you that. Bill Bruce didn’t write it.”

Brad Bonner, the hospital’s general counsel, did not respond this morning to an email asking whether he had reviewed the settlement before its approval.

A judge approved the settlement in April and sealed it from public view. Since then, hospital officials have denied multiple requests from residents and reporters to reveal the details of the settlement and claimed the judge’s order barred them from doing so, even though the confidentiality clause contained an exception that allows its public release to comply with Iowa law.

Bruce said he was not aware of the exception and has repeatedly dismissed claims that he was violating the state’s open records law: “We’re caught in the middle on this.”

The Times Herald filed a court motion in December that asked a judge to direct the hospital to release the settlement, and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council joined the fray and paid for an attorney to represent the newspaper. On Friday, a judge issued an order — that had been agreed upon by the hospital, Christiansen’s husband and the Times Herald — to release the settlement.

“The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is grateful that after 10 months of ignoring its legal obligations, the Crawford County Memorial Hospital has finally released the terms of the settlement in the litigation growing out of the tragic death of Mrs. Christiansen,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the council.

“We just regret that the FOI Council and the Daily Times Herald had to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer to achieve what Iowa’s public records law says in crystal-clear language — that government entities like the Crawford County hospital cannot enter into secret settlements in lawsuits.”

The hospital has a recent history of secrecy. It fought for a year to keep the names of volunteers who drive patients to and from the hospital confidential but relented in July when the Iowa Public Information Board ruled the names were a public record.

A Denison resident had requested the names because one of the volunteers was a convicted sex offender.

The hospital also has refused to provide full supporting documents for its board of trustees meetings in advance of those meetings. The law does not require it to, but other local government entities publish the documents online several days in advance of their meetings.

“Among the more important charges of a newspaper is holding your government officials accountable,” Times Herald co-owner Douglas Burns said. “We take seriously our responsibility to drag public documents from the darkness when needed. In this era of cost-cutting and slashes to newsrooms, far too many media organizations are looking the other way on matters like this instead of directing limited resources toward meeting a solemn responsibility.

“Our readers and the west-central Iowa public can rest assured that the Daily Times Herald, as long as it is owned by this family, will remain a vigilant watchdog of your tax dollars and all government bodies. As much as anything we’ve done in recent years, this episode demonstrates that.”

Evans also pledged to wage future fights in court for the release of public records when necessary.

“Iowa’s law that prohibits secret settlements involving government was written by the Legislature because lawmakers were keenly aware that the public should not be kept in the dark about these matters — even if the details prove embarrassing to government entities,” he said.

Hicks moves into FOI Council presidency

Lynn Hicks, the opinion editor of The Des Moines Register, will become president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council for 2017.

He replaces Dave Busiek, news director of KCCI-TV in Des Moines.

Zack Kucharski, executive editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, moves up to first vice president for 2017.

Keith Bliven, news director of KTIV-TV in Sioux City, joins the Iowa FOI Council’s board of trustees as the organization’s second vice president.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a 40-year-old education and advocacy organization made up of journalists, lawyers, educators and other citizens committed to open and transparent government in Iowa.

The council publishes the Iowa Open Meetings, Open Records Handbook, a guide to the state’s open-government laws. Several thousand copies of the handbook are distributed statewide each year.

The council also is designated by the Iowa Supreme Court to coordinate the state’s Expanded News Media Coverage program, which allows photographers and other digital journalists to work inside state courtrooms under most circumstances.

State Patrol releases video from 2015 arrest

Sioux City Journal

A state trooper used the barrel of his rifle to poke a suspect in the shoulder blade to subdue him at the end of a police chase in rural Plymouth County 18 months ago, according to an open records report the Iowa State Patrol released Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

The Iowa State Patrol also released a dash cam video of the June 21, 2015 incident involving Shanne Arre of Le Mars, who fled after police tried to pull him over for speeding.

In January 2016, the State Patrol acknowledged Trooper Jeremy Probasco injured Arre with his rifle after Arre showed “passive resistance.” But the patrol withheld the video of the incident and also didn’t detail how the weapon was used or what injury Arre suffered, saying doing so would jeopardize Arre’s right to a fair trial.

With the resolution earlier this month of state charges against Arre, the State Patrol released the “portion of the trooper’s dashcam video that shows the discovery of Arre’s crashed car and the search and apprehension of Arre is being released to provide additional information to supplement the immediate facts and circumstances that were previously released.”

The video and additional information was released as a result of a freedom of information request filed by the Associated Press.

Just before midnight on June 21, 2015, Arre, then 28, failed to stop after a Plymouth County sheriff’s deputy tried to pull him over for speeding. The deputy followed in pursuit through southeastern Plymouth County, eventually joined by the state trooper and police officers from Kingsley and Remsen.

After driving down gravel roads and into farm fields, Arre crashed his vehicle into a fence and ditch. He then fled on foot. Officers found him hiding in tall grass, with the only light coming from patrol car lights and flashlights, so “the officers did not know if the suspect was armed,” according to the report released Friday.

“Arre moved his hands so that they were hidden in the grass, and it appeared to the trooper that Arre was either going to push himself up off the ground and/or grab a weapon. The trooper did not have time to transition to a taser or asp baton. The trooper poked Arre once with the barrel of the rifle, into the soft tissue area of the shoulder blade, in order to gain control of Arre and prevent him from pushing up off the ground or grabbing a weapon,” the report said.

After Arre was arrested, a knife was found in the grass.

The rifle barrel left a mark between Arre’s shoulder blades and a scrape on the left side of his back. He was offered and refused treatment for the visible injuries, according to the report.

Arre was cited for eluding or attempting to elude, a felony charge, and second-offense operating while intoxicated, an aggravated misdemeanor. He later pleaded guilty to those charges.

After being released from the Plymouth County Jail in September 2015, Arre was arrested in Woodbury County on two Class B felony controlled substance violations and a Class D felony, according to the report from the State Patrol. Those charges were subsequently dismissed and Arre was indicted in U.S. District Court for Nebraska for the same or similar acts.

The federal court ordered Arre to reside at a residential treatment facility and undergo drug treatment. As a result, Arre was not available to appear in court on the state charges in Plymouth County. At different times, a warrant was issued for Arre for failure to appear on the state charges and on one occasion, his attorney needed additional time to locate Arre in the federal system, according to the state report.

In November, Arre pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to 24 months in prison, with the sentence to commence in January.

On Dec. 6, 2016, he pleaded guilty in Plymouth County District Court to the charge of eluding as a Class D felony and received a five-year prison sentence to run concurrently with his federal prison sentence. He also pleaded guilty to the charge of OWI second offense, and was sentenced to 365 days in jail, with all but seven days suspended.

The Iowa State Patrol’s delay in releasing the dash cam video and more details about the unusual show of force by a trooper led the Iowa Freedom of Information Council in [January 2016] to send a letter accusing the patrol of “not meeting the letter or the spirit” of the open records law.

The video can be seen here:

Appeals court levies fines in meetings lawsuit

This article was written and transmitted by the Associated Press on Dec. 21, 2016.


In a decision likely to create concern among many members of boards, commissions and councils, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that three county supervisors serving as trustees of an agriculture drainage district must pay thousands of dollars in fines and attorney fees for violating the state’s open meetings laws.

The case centers on two meetings held in November 2013 by three members of the Harrison County Board who also serve as trustees of a local drainage district.

Robert Smith, Walter Utman and Gaylord Pitt were discussing whether to rebuild a levee near Modale to hold back Missouri River floodwaters. A group of farmers were upset after the levee failed in 2011 and flooded their farm fields.

After the trustees were threatened with legal action by farmers, the trustees closed a portion of their meetings on Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 to discuss possible litigation.

Two of the farmers, James Olinger and Larry Meyer, sued in November 2013, claiming that the meetings violated Iowa’s open meetings laws.

A district court judge found that an open meetings violation occurred but also determined that the trustees went into a closed meeting on the advice of their secretary, who said their attorney recommended it and that they in good faith attempted to comply with the open meetings laws.

The judge imposed a fine on the drainage district but did not individually find the trustees liable based on their good-faith defense.

Appeals court justices found that the reason cited for the closed meetings — to discuss strategy with counsel in matters involving litigation — did not apply since the trustees’ attorney was not present.

“Here, two meetings were held, twice the trustees voted to go into closed session, and both times there was no statutory basis for closing the session,” the court ruled. “This was more than a ‘procedural irregularity,’ which resulted in the actual exclusion of persons from the meeting.”

The court said the trustees may not have known their actions violated the open meetings laws, but it found that ignorance is no defense.

The court fined each of the three members $200 for the two open meeting violations and concluded that they must individually pay attorney fees, which Jessica Zupp, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said will total nearly $25,000.

Zupp said the court’s ruling “puts some teeth back into the open meetings statute and reminds our elected leaders that they are accountable to the citizens and to the voters.”

The trustees may seek a rehearing before the full Iowa Court of Appeals and ask the Iowa Supreme Court to consider an appeal.

Here is the text of the Court of Appeals decision: HarrisonCounty.AppealsCourt

Leath’s use of ISU planes involves ‘shades of gray’

By Jeff Charis-Carlson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Dec. 13, 2016


The Iowa Board of Regents’ chief auditor announced Monday that some uses of aircraft by the president of Iowa State University “enter shades of gray” as to whether they violate regent and university policy.

The board president, however, said that ISU President Steve Leath has admitted that mistakes were made, has reimbursed the university for any questionable flights and deserves the board’s continued backing.

“President Leath’s acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the plane reassures this board — and I hope all Iowans — that the president deserves our continued trust and support,” Bruce Rastetter, president of the board, said Monday during a meeting in Ankeny.

The regents met Monday to discuss their internal auditors’ examination of four years’ worth of flights taken by Leath and other ISU administrators. The board also met in closed session to evaluate Leath.

“As you are all aware, we do report whenever we determine whether there is a clear violation of university or board policy,” Todd Stewart, chief audit executive, told the board Monday. “Many times these are clear-cut, black-and-white determinations. In still other cases, they enter shades of gray. President Leath’s use of university aircraft in at least a few instances falls within this category, while most were entirely business related.”

The regents voted unanimously in October to direct the board’s internal auditors to expand their earlier review of travel and equipment policies into a broader independent audit.

Stewart said the report presented Monday did not include any assessment of whether the flights in question violated state law, but the auditors did include several policy recommendations for the board to consider moving forward.

Officials with the Office of the State Auditor are waiting on the results of the regents’ internal audit before deciding whether to move forward with any additional audit of their own, Stewart said.

In open session, the regents offered nothing but praise for Leath’s public admission of having made mistakes and his willingness to learn from them.

“If we can make something that we regret and you regret be a better thing for the university in the future — glory hallelujah! Because I’ll be right there supporting it,” said Regent Larry McKibben. “And the fact that you have said what you said today really impresses me. That you are that kind of a leader that will acknowledge (what) all of us ought to do when we have these kinds of circumstances arise.”

Regent Subash Sahai, who has been publicly critical of Leath in the past, was absent from Monday’s meeting due to illness.

Future of ISU Flight Service

Although the regents offered Leath their continued support Monday, the future for ISU Flight Service is uncertain. The board has called for a comprehensive evaluation of whether the service continues to offer the best use of state-owned resources.

“There’s no doubt that Flight Services has benefited the university in the past,” Leath told reporters after the meeting. “The question actually is: Is there an alternative delivery service that makes sense at this time? … There is no doubt that in the world we live in — especially in athletics, who are the primary users for recruiting and other things — private aircraft play a hugely important role in large universities.”

Regent auditors described Flight Service as a fee-for-service unit that does not depend on external funding to operate. The budget for the service has more than doubled during Leath’s time at the university — from $394,000 in fiscal year 2012 to $880,000 in fiscal year 2016.

Leath, who has a pilot’s license, said in September that he no longer will fly any state-owned craft. He added Monday that, without regular time in a cockpit as part of his job, he probably will not have enough time in the air to keep his skill level adequate and his certification valid.

With only two pilots left certified to fly the Cirrus, Leath said the university will be looking to sell the aircraft. The plane, which had a price tag of nearly $500,000, was paid for by funds that ISU Foundation officials have said were under the university president’s discretion.

Leath has said previously that he does not intend to claim a deduction on his taxes for these reimbursements.

Leath’s office and the Greater University Fund accounted for 28 percent of the miles flown by ISU Flight Service from January 2012 to October 2016, according to the report. The rest of the miles flown came through the Athletics Department (43 percent), academics (11 percent), the ISU Foundation (8 percent), administration (6 percent) and Flight Service (4 percent).

Questionable flights

Auditors found that Leath had flown on a university-owned aircraft 181 times since 2012 — 72 times on the Cirrus SR22, 65 times on the university’s King Air 350 and 44 times on the King Air 200, which the university owned before buying the 350.

Leath said he recently reimbursed the university for more than $19,000 to cover the costs of several of the flights flagged by the auditors. The check was made out to the ISU Foundation, he said, so that the money eventually could be distributed to the appropriate university accounts.

“I recognize that I used the university planes more frequently than was absolutely necessary and should have been more transparent about my use,” he said. “Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful, and I will work to ensure that any time the university planes are used, it is in the very best interest of Iowa State.”

Leath said he reimbursed the university for a March 2014 flight in which he picked up and dropped off his brother in Elmira, N.Y., en route to the NCAA basketball tournament. Flight Service had scheduled a refueling stop in Elmira in advance of the trip, but the auditors found the return stop in Elmira would not have been necessary other than to drop off passengers.

“Even though there was no additional cost incurred by the university, I understand why inviting my brother and his partner on the plane could be perceived as inappropriate,” he said. “As a result, I have paid for the amount that Flight Service would have attributed to my brother and his partner.”

Leath said he is planning to reimburse the university for the multiple training flights ISU’s insurance carrier required for his certification on the Cirrus. Although Leath had a pilot’s license when he became ISU president, his training on the Cirrus took place during his time at the Ames-based university.

“I see why my use of the Cirrus for training may be viewed as a personal benefit,” he said. “I have since asked Flight Service for a bill for the Cirrus and paid that bill.”

Leath said he also reimbursed the university for two of the seven trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for medical visits.

“At the time, I believed it was appropriate because I had to get back to Ames for important university commitments,” Leath said. “Even though this was within policy, I told (Regent Executive Director Bob Donley) that I would feel more comfortable if I paid for those flights myself, which I have done.”

The auditors said that the regents do not have a policy concerning an annual physical for university presidents or whether any associated travel expenses would be covered by the university.