Penalty trial delayed in city’s open record case

Today’s (Wednesday) trial on the enforcement actions related to the city of Clinton not releasing records of closed sessions has been continued.  In a summary judgment issued Tuesday, the city was found to have violated the Open Records law in not releasing the records of a series of six closed meetings held regarding the lawsuit filed over the ambulance service billing practices.  Today’s trial was to present arguments on the penalties and enforcement.

The EMS billing lawsuit was settled for the city paying a 4 and a half million dollar fine and penalty for the Medicare and Medicaid billing practices.

The Iowa A-C-L-U took the case on behalf of a citizens group know as Citizens For An Open Government and has present the case in court.

The parties met for two hours with the judge in the case and then announced the trial has been continued until January 30th.  The judge’s order states the delay is for the city to procure additional witnesses and to conduct settlement negotiations in light the summary judgment ruling.

An attorney for the C-FOG group said one the issues was whether the city knowingly violated the statute.

A leader of the C-FOG group – Ed O’Neill spoke to the media in the parking lot leaving the courthouse and said the group wanted injunctive relief, a fine and attorney fees.  After the hearing, O’Neil said the discussion is about who will pay the fine and fees.  He said the C-FOG group wants individual council members to have to pay while the city is offering to pay. He  said that costs the taxpayers.   O’Neill said someone should be held accountable and that’s the council members and not the taxpayers.

He estimated the attorney fees would be about 50-thousand dollars and then whatever fine the judge may impose.  He estimated that split among the council members that would be about a year’s council salary.

O’Neill was recently elected to the council and believes in that capacity it strengthens the efforts to have the individual council members responsible for paying the penalties.

Clinton City Attorney Jeff Farwell has not been available for comment on today’s developments or whether the city will consider an appeal of the judge’s partial summary judgment.