Transparency Task Force fields complaints about Iowa Regent Rastetter

BY STACEY MURRAY | MAY 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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The state Board of Regents Transparency Task Force held its second of four public forums Wednesday for community members to speak on transparency issues, but a local organization chose to rehash recent ethical complaints.

Members from the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and other locals voiced strong opinions about Regent Bruce Rastetter regarding controversies around the regent president pro tem.

“I’ve been pretty unhappy and disappointed with some of the appointments to the Board of Regents,” local resident Jaime Kearney said. “If Bruce Rastetter continues to remain on the Board of Regents, I think the message we would be giving to the public would be clear — if you have a lot of money and power, you can do whatever you want.”

Four of the Citizens for Community Improvement members brought up previous issues with Rastetter, referring to what they consider to be a less-than-ideal ethical track record.

“We’ve had some abuses in the past by the Board of Regents,” said Dale Boerhave, a member of the group.

Boerhave said he was concerned with Rastetter’s intentions with his AgriSol company, recalling the ethics complaints against him roughly one year ago.

The Iowa group filed an ethics complaint against Rastetter in June 2012 with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, citing his involvement with biofuel company AgriSol as a conflict of interest with Iowa State University. Agrisol and ISU were discussing opportunities for collaboration on outreach in Tanzania.

The Iowa group also alleged AgriSol was responsible for human-rights abuses of roughly 160,000 refugees in Tanzania.

Rastetter has previously defended his position to The Daily Iowan. He was not available for comment Tuesday night.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said in a July 20, 2012, article. “In order to have a conflict [of interest], it would actually have to be an agreement. I clearly identified it; the Iowa State people identified it.”

A spokesman also refuted any responsibility or involvement in human-rights violations.
ISU terminated discussions of the partnership with AgriSol amid controversy, and Rastetter was cleared of the ethics complaints in August 2012.

But Citizens for Community Improvement members aren’t content with the resolution.

“I would urge this man be removed from the Board of Regents as a starting point in developing true transparency,” Kearney said.

But one person said the task force should focus on transparency instead of ethical complaints.

“I just don’t want the discussion to be detracted too much away from the fact that we want to be able to see what these institutions are doing and have them be as transparent as possible,” said Lyle Muller, the executive director-editor at the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. “I understand the comment about ethics, but what it’s really about is the transparency of the regents and the institutions and how they do their business.”

Additionally, community members expressed desire for a public comment period. Task-force member Mark Braun, the University of Iowa interim vice president for Strategic Communications, said the idea is worthy of discussion.

However, he said the force wouldn’t address the issues with Rastetter.

“Those are issues for the governor, not for the task force,” Braun said. 

Task force member Kathleen Richardson said the newly formed panel is just in the information-gathering stage.

“At this point, the board is just listening to comments,” she said.

The next meeting will take place on Thursday in Council Bluffs, and the last public hearing will be in Dubuque on May 7.

Despite the task force’s desire to change topics, the Citizens for Community Improvement members said they will continue to pursue Rastetter’s termination from the regents.

“We don’t have a lot of money, and we don’t have a lot of power, but we do know what’s going on,” Kearney said.

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