Randy Evans's blog

Misguided gov’t proposal targets ‘vexatious’ people

Many decades ago, Mrs. Gentry and Mr. Halferty put up with an inquisitive kid’s classroom questions about American democracy and the workings of government.

I did not imagine back then how the meaning of some words could take on such importance in government. Take, for example, a much-talked-about word in Iowa last week, vexatious. It means abrasive, aggravating, annoying, irritating or nettlesome.

Whether you vote for Democrats, Republicans or Whigs, everyone should have access to government records that are not confidential. That is a way for you to understand what your state and local government is doing.

Iowa’s open records law says succinctly: “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.”

It appears not every life in Iowa truly is sacred

Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.

That is how she lived.

How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.

The death of the 83-year-old Newton woman was tragic. Two photographs made that so horribly clear.

In spite of the statements and pledges about the sanctity of every human life, Mahoney’s death illustrates that too many members of the Iowa Legislature, and our governor, too, show too little concern for the sanctity of the lives of people in Iowa’s nursing homes.

The issue we didn’t know was an issue

Silly me. I thought I had been paying attention to the issues about which Iowans feel strongly.

You know, things like inflation, taxes, government spending, the war in Ukraine, a new farm bill, water quality, immigration, the federal debt. Those sorts of issues.

But I have spaced off a vital issue in the minds of some in Congress — an issue that apparently has been flying under the radar of Iowans: That issue is aliens from another world.

When ‘governing’ loses track of its purpose

One of the photographs of my father that I clearly remember appeared on the pages of the Bloomfield Democrat about 60 years ago.

Pop was standing chest-deep in a hole that had been hastily dug in the street on the Bloomfield city square. His face was grim. There was urgent work to be done, because much of Bloomfield was without water.

An underground main had broken a block from the city’s water tower. Water was gushing into the street and flooding basements of nearby businesses.

There, in that hole with water pooled at his ankles, Pop shoveled muck and mud to expose the leaking pipe so it could be repaired.

In contrast with my dad, I had a soft working life. I spent much of my career in an air-conditioned office. The old photo shows Pop was not so lucky. He was a working stiff for the City of Bloomfield water department, wielding a shovel or hanging onto a jackhammer, before later moving up to operate the city’s water treatment plant.

His work days ranged from freezing, to sweltering, to all manner of conditions in between. He usually could take time for a few gulps of water from a jug during scorchers or for some hot coffee from a Thermos when he needed to thaw out.

But in Texas, not all working stiffs are not as fortunate as Pop was. We have the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott to thank for that.

What legislators don’t grasp about books in schools

My late friend Paul was a fine Des Moines teacher. I wish the Evans girls had him for history and government.

Judging from his ability to entertain me with descriptions of his interactions with students, parents and administrators, I am confident he could make the Peloponnesian War come alive for his history students and hold their attention.

If I live to be 100, I will never forget him relating anecdotes from parent-teacher conferences. He described one student sitting next to Mom, listening as Paul expressed concern about the kid’s sluggishness many mornings.

Bettendorf school board and public information board blunder in major transparency case

These are challenging times for Iowa’s 327 public school districts.

They are being watched closely by state officials and lawmakers, by parents and by others in the community. These eyes are looking for signs schools are treading lightly on topics like racial history and sexual orientation or that schools are being distracted from dealing with unruly kids who disrupt other students’ learning.

With this heightened scrutiny, some districts are doing themselves a disservice when they try to keep the public in the dark.

Here's a real-life example. It illustrates my belief government will never build trust and confidence with its constituents when government leaders engage in secrecy and deception. This also is an example that a state government board dealing exclusively with transparency issues may be too timid.

In 2022, one day after the mass shootings at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the Bettendorf school board met with about 300 parents who were angry about frequent incidents of student misconduct at the middle school.

We honored Cameron and remembered Gov. Ray

Sue and I were in Washington, Iowa, last month. The purpose for our trip was a high school graduation.

It was a special occasion because the people we joined with in honoring young Cameron, the newly minted Washington High School grad, have been our friends for almost 44 years.

It is important to know that while family and friends gathered to celebrate this milestone in the young man’s life, there was one noteworthy person close to the family’s heart who was there in spirit, because he truly made this wonderful day possible.

That person was the late Robert Ray, Iowa’s former governor, who died in 2018. He is a revered figure in the lives of Cameron’s extended family and in the lives of thousands of immigrant families.

Millions of reasons why outside scrutiny is important

When FBI agents led a Dixon, Ill., official out of city hall in handcuffs and the charges against her became public, the most often asked question was “How.”

How did City Comptroller Rita Crundwell manage to embezzle an astounding $54 million from the northwest Illinois community of 15,700 people before she was finally detected?

How did city officials and an outside CPA auditing firm fail to get even a whiff of her brazen scheme for the 22 years she robbed the city treasury?

Crundwell was arrested in 2012. Her case is old news now. But Iowans should have more than idle curiosity in her crime.

Hers is a textbook case of why it is important to have independent outside auditors and investigators with the legal tools and the expertise to dig into potential “paper” crimes or misconduct involving government employees.

This is why anxiety about secrecy led us into court

In 2017, the Iowa Legislature responded to concerns from Gov. Terry Branstad and amended Iowa law to ensure when government employees are forced out of their jobs the reasons must be made public and not shrouded in secrecy.

The goal was commendable. The governor was right. People deserve to be told “why.” It is called public accountability.

Since then, the transparency promised six years ago has diminished.

Keeping Iowa in the dark is not acceptable

If you watch the Iowa Legislature in action, there are some truisms you see time and again.

Such as: Each political party is in favor of transparency and accountability — until they gain the majority. Then those politicians see many reasons why transparency and accountability are problematic.

Another: If you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there.

And then there is today’s truism: Don’t ask a question if you are afraid of the answer.

For the Republican majority in the Iowa Senate, the answer they do not want to hear is what the scientific data show about the pollution of Iowa lakes, rivers and streams with nitrates and phosphorus, two contaminants that come primarily from agricultural runoff. They do not want to know whether the problem is getting better or getting worse.


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