DES MOINES — The Iowa Public Information Board has delayed a decision on whether to rule on a complaint against Indian Hills Community College brought by the Centerville Daily Iowegian.
The complaint relates to the school’s handling of information about the departure of two baseball coaches last spring. Indian Hills initially said there were no discharges and that the coaches’ were simply not being renewed.
The Iowegian requested copies of the contracts, but Indian Hills provided “at-will” letters of employment and said there were no formal contacts.
Since that time, several former players on the Indian Hills baseball team have come forward with complaints about being required to work as security at events including University of Iowa football games. The players said foreign students were assigned aliases to get around work restrictions imposed by their visas.
Players also described what they saw as a culture of intimidation, including physical injury, and pressure by coaches to return to practices far sooner than recommended by their doctors.
The IPIB appeared set to dismiss the complaint filed by Iowegian Editor Kyle Ocker. A draft dismissal said the complaint was “possibly outside the jurisdiction of the IPIB because of timeliness,” and that there was “insufficient evidence to support a violation.” That outcome no longer appears assured.
During a Thursday hearing, the board voted unanimously to table the dismissal. Randy Evans, executive director for the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said during the hearing that Indian Hills’ request to have the complaint dismissed was consistent with its effort to keep the players’ accusations from getting attention.
“What Indian Hills is trying to do is to keep the spotlight off of alleged misconduct by its employees and to disregard the clear purpose behind the amendments that were enacted in 2017 by the personnel records portion of the public records law,” he said.
Evans told board members explanations for why employees are removed are critical in situations like the one at Indian Hills, especially when those employees have direct influence over students’ activities.
Evans also rejected the school’s contention that the letters were equivalent to contracts.
“The FOI Council’s position statement provides an analysis of what the requirements under the coach and teaching sections of the law are. But the college is taking the position as the board’s proposed order adopts the same rationale that letters of at-will employment become one-year contracts. If you look at page three in the FOI Council’s paper, you will see one of those examples,” he said. “This is the one-year, at-will agreement that was provided to the head baseball coach at Indian Hills. That doesn’t look like any employment contact I’ve dealt with in government or in business.”
Kristy Latta, Indian Hills’ counsel, defended the school’s position that the letters automatically ended employment of the coaches unless they were renewed.
“So teacher-coaches used to renew automatically and it became difficult terminate a teacher-coach sometimes. But in this case, now, the way the law is currently, and the way it was at the time this all transpired at the community college, is there is a one-year term on the contract. It doesn’t renew,” she said. “During that term, if you move on the law in 279.19A provides that it can be terminated — terminated — prior to expiration. So, mid-term termination prior to expiration by board action. So it would require action by the board. So you got basically if you’re an instructor-coach you’ve got a one-year gig as a coach and you can be terminated from that … for any lawful reason at any time prior to it [expiring] but it requires board action.”
The complaint remains pending before the Iowa Public Information Board.