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Bettendorf pays resident $57,000 to settle open records request dispute
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Bettendorf pays resident $57,000 to settle open records request dispute

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City of Bettendorf

After a nearly three-year battle over a request to examine public records outlining payments to an attorney hired to represent the City of Bettendorf in lawsuits concerning the city’s sewer system, the city in May issued a $57,000 check to Allen Diercks to settle the dispute.

Initially, the City of Bettendorf provided Diercks heavily redacted statements when he made his request. When he sued the city over the redacted documents, the District Court ruled in favor of the city.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s decision and remanded the case back for trial.

After settling, the city paid Diercks $57,000 and the suit was dismissed May 22.

City Administrator Decker Ploehn said that the city only paid $10,000, which was the deductible, and the rest of the $47,000 was paid by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, or ICAP. 

Additionally, Ploehn said that the city had no say in the settlement as that was due to ICAP, and that the records in question were the billing statements of the attorneys hired to represent Bettendorf, Michael Walker of Hopkins & Huebner. 

According to the Iowa Court of Appeals decision, the city of Bettendorf made a contract with and paid the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool to defend the city in lawsuits concerning its sewer system filed between Aug. 14, 2013, and Jan. 27, 2017. The Iowa Communities Assurance Pool hired Michael Walker of Hopkins & Huebner, P.C., to defend the lawsuits.

On May 24, 2017, Diercks hand-delivered a Chapter 22 Request for Public Records to Kristine Stone, the Bettendorf Public Records custodian.

In his request, Diercks asked for “All itemized fee statements submitted from Attorney Michael C. Walker and/or Hopkins & Huebner, P.C. to the ICAP or the City of Bettendorf, Iowa, for legal services rendered to the City from August 14, 2013 through January 27, 2017.”

Diercks also wrote, “If you redact any information please state any reasons for that redaction.”

He filed suit against the city for the records Sept. 7, 2017, through his attorney Michael Meloy. 

According to the Appeals Court ruling, “If ICAP was not providing a legal defense for the City, the City would still be required to defend against its liability.

“The public has an interest in knowing how public monies are being expended,” the Appeals Court said. “Because we conclude ICAP is performing a government function by virtue of its contract with the City, as specifically applied to the facts of this case, its records are public records subject to examination. The district court granted summary judgment on the ground the records were not public records subject to disclosure. This ruling was in error, and we reverse and remand for further proceedings.”

Diercks said that, “As a taxpaying citizen whose property taxes are raised every year I want to know where my money is going.

“It is the city’s obligation to provide me with public records when asked for,” he said. “It saddens me when the city administrator who was paid approximately $211,000 last year, and the city attorney who was paid approximately $180,000 last year, to not know what a public record is.

“This lawsuit could have been stopped at any time by giving me the public records,” Direcks said. “Instead they ended up paying my attorney and myself $57,000 of tax payer money. Shame on them.”

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