On May 21, Pat Garrett, the spokesperson for Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, called her “the most transparent governor in Iowa history” in response to criticism that she was unresponsive to reporters’ questions at daily COVID-19 press conferences that she decided to stop holding a month later. Less than a month after that, on July 14, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that the Iowa Department of Public Health requested nearly $10,000, costs included, for emails explaining why the state’s medical director, Caitlin Pedati, rejected an offer in April from the Centers for Disease Control for support in responding to deadly outbreaks at meatpacking plants. Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley responded to this by tweeting, “The same agency told me it would cost $1,690 to release a figure that many states have shared with the public and the CDC: how many Iowa meatpacking workers have died of the coronavirus.” On Tuesday, State Auditor Rob Sand released a report alleging that the TestIowa COVID-19 testing program, which the governor awarded a $26 million, no-bid contract for on the advice of actor Ashton Kutcher, was violating state law by failing to immediately report test results to the IDPH (read more about that here).
The next day, Des Moines Register reporter Tony Leys reported that longtime IDPH spokesperson Polly Carver-Kimm had been forced out of her job, apparently because she was too transparent with reporters about the impacts of COVID-19 in Iowa — this after she was removed from her role in March on the department’s team responding to the pandemic.
WHO-TV reporter Melody Mercado reacted to the Register‘s report.
THIS IS IOWA. The state’s health department has been restricting information to reporters and fielding ridiculous costs for FOIA requests. The cherry on top? FOIA requests have started being filtered through the governor’s office. https://t.co/gwgakNQFnB
— Melody Mercado (@melodymercadotv) July 16, 2020
As did Register reporter Tyler Davis.
— Tyler Davis (@TDavisDMR) July 15, 2020
Another Register reporter, Tyler Jett, noted spokesperson Pat Garrett’s apparent reaction.
The governor’s spokesman: https://t.co/DaXYDnkXmd
— Tyler Jett (@LetsJett) July 16, 2020
The advocacy organization Progress Iowa offered Garrett some advice.
— Progress Iowa (@ProgressIowa) July 15, 2020
Luppe B. Luppen, a New York attorney and popular writer, shared the news with his more than 200,000 Twitter followers.
Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson, ousted from her job today, tells the Des Moines register that reporters have been denied timely information during the covid crisis. https://t.co/4ZfME2HIL9
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) July 15, 2020
Back in Iowa, Ty Rushing, managing editor of the N’West Iowa Review, reacted.
Damn publicly-funded spokespeople answering questions about *checks notes* public information for the sake of the public during a public health crisis. https://t.co/pQqpKYDQiz
— Ty Rushing (@Rushthewriter) July 16, 2020
As did Allison Gibson, the news director of eastern Iowa TV station KWWL.
Polly Carver-Kimm says she was taken off coronavirus duties; she believes it was partly because she tried to be as open as possible with reporters. https://t.co/IcsrNkljl3
— AGibson (@AGibsonTV) July 16, 2020
As did Siouxland News government and politics reporter Caroline Cummings, who also said the state attempted to charge her $9,800 for a records request.
Longtime spokeswoman at the Iowa Department of Public Health is out, a move she believes is “at least partly tied to her desire to aggressively fulfill reporters’ requests for information.”https://t.co/nUJXVfQFTs
— Caroline Cummings (@CaroRCummings) July 16, 2020
And Iowa City Press-Citizen reporter Zachary Oren Smith.
She said Reynolds’ staff recently required that most media requests, including routine open-records requests, be funneled through the governor’s office.
“I have never had something like that happen before in any of the administrations I’ve worked for.”https://t.co/c00x9vgqCV
— Zachary Oren Smith (@ZacharyOS) July 16, 2020
And Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters.
A longtime spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health said she was ousted Wednesday, and she believes it was partly because she was seen as too aggressive in sharing information with the media. @tonyleys https://t.co/xrutHhpKB6
— Clay Masters (@Clay_Masters) July 16, 2020
And Lyle Muller, the former director of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
— LyleMuller (@LyleMuller) July 16, 2020
The progressive reporter Laura Belin added some additional historical perspective.
Also @TerryBranstad took questions from press every week at a predictable place and time. All news conferences were posted online, and viewers could hear the questions as well as the answers. None of that has been true for @IAGovernor. https://t.co/fHrbW9kba2
— Bleeding Heartland (@LauraRBelin) July 16, 2020
Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, also weighed in.
This certainly puts to rest the concern that IA Public Health Dept might be using the cost of public records to discourage public scrutiny of the state’s handling of the pandemic. https://t.co/lkhKn2COqH
— Randy Evans (@DMRevans) July 15, 2020
As did Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for the newspaper chain Lee Enterprises.
Newly resigned state public health dept spokeswoman to @tonyleys: “I am embarrassed and saddened by the way the media has been treated during COVID. You are not receiving timely answers and you are getting scripted talking points when you do get an answer.”https://t.co/aXHcO0Jlwa
— Erin Murphy (@ErinDMurphy) July 16, 2020
And retired Register reporter Bill Petroski.
— William Petroski (@WilliamPetroski) July 15, 2020