Maquoketa’s city council members need to find their voice, and fast.

They are about to start looking bad in front of their constituents for no reason we can understand, political or otherwise. 

After repeated requests from the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press for the city to release electronic footage its police officers’ electronic devices captured during a 911 emergency call involving Assistant Jackson County Attorney Amanda Lassance in April, not one council member has spoken of the issue during an official meeting.

Your hometown newspaper publicly disclosed more than a month ago that it planned to file a lawsuit if the city didn’t release the footage. 

The council has responded with nothing but dead air.

We asked for the footage because we want our community to have granular detail as to how our criminal justice system employed a double standard when one of their own was caught on the wrong side of the law, slurring her words from the driver’s seat of a car with beer cans strewn about. We want our readers to be able to judge for themselves the egregiousness of the wrongdoing, and the footage the city possesses might be able to help them do that.

Unfortunately, the Maquoketa City Council and its police chief, Brad Koranda, are standing in the way. They are also on the verge of running up legal expenses, and for what reason? So they can deny the public access to something the public owns?

Don’t make expensive mistake

They should read Iowa’s open records law and give it serious consideration, especially the part that explains that a government entity, when it loses a public records case, can be ordered to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees, compounding the expense to taxpayers.

Before it’s too late, council members should recognize it is their responsibility to make an active, public decision to release the footage in the name of transparency, good government, and fiscal responsibility.

We doubt anyone on the council would publicly advocate for secrecy or unaccountable policing. Who in their right mind would?

We also believe our council members have good intentions for our city, and in many ways they are doing an admirable job. 

That is why we have been reluctant to quickly file a lawsuit or criticize the council in a harsher manner, but we know what the public wants, and it most certainly is not a denial.

Privacy not a consideration

In last Wednesday’s Maquoketa Sentinel-Press, Mayor Don Schwenker was quoted explaining his position by saying the Maquoketa City Council “is not protecting anyone like the sheriff’s department or anyone else but the privacy of anyone else on the video. I don’t care if the video gets seen, but we’re trying to protect private information that might be on it.”

While we are glad that the mayor was willing to speak to the issue, we are confused by the idea that there could be any private information on the video. The entire police call played out on public property along the side of U.S. Highway 61, and there were no confidential sources present. The only people there, according to police records, were Lassance, her boyfriend and a bunch of police.

Whatever the video shows, the information belongs to the public. Police, who are paid through tax dollars, captured the video using equipment that taxpayers own and maintain.

Everyone on the council should understand that nothing on the video is private. City taxpayers have a right to know what its police officers were doing at the scene, what they saw, how they conducted themselves, and what they contributed to the discussion while they were there.

We know our community still has a lot of unanswered questions involving this story, and those questions are justified. 

The city council members should not stand in the way of those questions getting answered. They should think deeply before wading into an expensive, no-win situation. And, simply because it’s the right thing to do, they should stand up and be counted among those who believe government work – and especially policing – is best performed without secrets.