Open Records Law: Beneficial or Detrimental?

The news hit my Twitter feed shortly before 9pm last Friday night June 1st, and by Saturday night, Nancy Sebring went from former school superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools to being the former superintendent of both Des Moines and Omaha Public Schools.

No one didn’t have to wait for the Saturday paper to arrive at their doorstep to read the news of how Nancy Sebring resigned. Newspapers are using Twitter to break the news.

An open records request by an Omaha World Herald reporter to the Des Moines schools did more than release the information on why Sebring tendered her resignation as the head of DMPS.  Yes, it revealed that she likes writing racy emails but it opened up a debate on whether or not the Freedom of Information Act and the Iowa open records law is being used properly or is it being used as a tool to smear someone.

A person on Twitter shortly after the news posed that question from above.  Her feeling was that the Des Moines Register‘s decision to publish was a witch-hunt.  Over the past 24 hours, it has begun to appear like it as more and more information and details come out about it.

Is it a witch-hunt?  Depends on how much stuff you have read so far.  It may look like it, but keep this in mind:   Sebring used the school district’s email system to send and receive those “love letters”.  If you work for an employer, it’s not only in print, but it’s also common sense:  do not use the company’s email for private and personal emails, especially anything that would get you fired or subject to public reprimand.

In short, if you’re going to write personal things like that, use your personal/home PC and personal email.  Using a company PC and company email puts you and your employer at risk for trouble.

That’s why Sebring tendered her resignation…to curttail a possible termination by the board, possible litigation against all parties involved, and further embarrassment.

And in that perspective, it is not a witch-hunt, for which I respectfully disagree with the person I know on Twitter who asked that question.  A witch-hunt is when you start spreading false information about people, breaking into their personal home emails, and using information that should be private and putting it out there in public.

Former DSM Superintendent Nancy Sebring

It’s funny and hypocritical (in my view) of us, as citizens, demand to know why Sally Mason‘s husband is on the University of Iowa Foundation’s payroll, why did our nation went to Iraq, and what other secrets people and groups are hiding, and yet we think that the salacious emails Sebring was sending and receiving was going too far, especially when people were still asking why did she abruptly resigned?

Keep in mind that the University of Iowa, Governors Vilsack, Culver, and Branstad, has battled the Des Moines Register, tooth and nail, over releasing information that the Register deems to be pertinent to the public.

The question that is at the heart of this story is whether the open records law, and the pursuit of it, being used to uncover credible information or is it for agenda-based reasons?

Human nature suggests that we want to know what is going on everyday, every minute.  And yet those who felt that the Register went to far in publishing the Sebring emails are also the same people who demand that our government is hiding information.

You can’t have it both ways/  Or can you?

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