Luchtel says he was also bound by statute in ruling against The Des Moines Register on whether records requesters could be charged by the state for overtime pay. The case stemmed from a dispute between the Register and the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which attempted to charge the paper for employees’ overtime pay in fulfilling a public-records request. The attorney general ultimately told the agency not to charge overtime for the request, but the Register asked IPIB for a declaratory order stating that charging overtime violates public-records laws.

The board determined that there was no statutory basis for such a declaration. In writing this ruling, Luchtel was, ironically, going against his former colleagues at the Iowa Newspaper Association, which petitioned the board in support of the Register’s filing.

“Some are disappointed I’m not opening the doors to everything,” Luchtel said. “It’s still the law. I’m not going to bend it to what I want.”

Transparency, Muller counters, should be business-as-usual for government agencies, not an after-hours, overtime proposition.

“Why isn’t that part of the regular duties?” he asked. “Why is the records-search overtime?”

A model for transparency?

Still, despite this ruling, Rick Green, publisher and president of the Register, told me in an email that he and his colleagues have been generally “pleased with our interactions with the Public Information Board,” and open-government advocates say they have not lost confidence in IPIB.

“I think Iowa’s better than an ‘F’ now that there’s this mechanism,” Muller said, adding that, “If nothing else, there is a greater awareness, and the state as a matter of policy said transparency is important.”

Richardson has more ambitious goals, arguing that IPIB can help Iowa serve as a model for transparency across the nation. Iowa is one of only a few states, she says, that has vested a public-information board with real enforcement powers.

“This is being looked at by public-interest advocates around the country,” Richardson said.

Will they like what they see?

“Ask me in a year or so,” Muller said.

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Deron Lee is CJR's correspondent for Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. A writer and copy editor who has spent seven years with the National Journal Group, he has also contributed to The Hotline and the Lawrence Journal-World. He lives in the Kansas City area. Follow him on Twitter at @deron_lee.