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Editorial: Branstad's administration needs to restore public trust

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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Lack of transparency in government looms yet again with another finding of a private email account for a high-ranking public official. Not related to the media outrage at the findings of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private account used to send emails while serving as the U.S. secretary of State (a practice also used by her predecessors) are reports that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad uses a private Gmail and a personal BlackBerry despite claiming for years that he doesn’t use anything other than his government issued email and cell phone.

The discussion of the use of private accounts by officials serving public office is an important one to have, and it’s astonishing it hasn’t happened sooner. The first email ever sent from the White House was by President Bill Clinton in 1998, and not until 17 years later are we having an dialogue about what and what isn’t justified in relation to sending messages electronically while serving publicly.

What is troublesome, though, even more than our governor withholding a private account and cell phone, is the blatant cover-up politics used to dismiss allegations as petty. In a court deposition on Nov. 26, 2014, Branstad told attorneys that he used “neither email or smart phone” to conduct business. When pressed on the use of his personal BlackBerry, the governor feigned ignorance and said he did not know that the device was considered a smart phone.

This isn’t the first time Branstad has shown a lack of transparency during his time serving as governor.

He was reluctant to release information about the development of Executive Order 69 in 2011, the order that bans allocation of public money for projects put forth through project labor-agreements. Refusal to keep discussion of policy open to the public in instances like this is unacceptable in a democratic state.

Even more recently in 2014, a public surfacing of private records documented secret settlements that were made by state universities in Iowa, totaling up to $1.17 million paid to undisclosed recipients by the state Board of Regents, UI President Sally Mason, and Branstad. In response, the governor fired the Iowa Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll, throwing others under the bus for an overall lack of transparency made by the department as a whole.

We should expect more from our public officials. With that in mind, our senators, governors, heads of state, and congressional representatives should only use email and phone services that are made accessible for review to increase overall political efficacy among citizens.

Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have made it well-known that even those at the highest level of government are capable of withholding crucial information from the people. And although there is only so much Iowans are able to do to change the courses of communications made all the way in on Capitol Hill, what we can do is start right here, right now to keep our local government employees accountable.


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