Sunday, October 16, 2016

Cirrus SR22, N176CF: Iowa State University wipes airplane records from websites


Records used last month to inform the public of damage to a state-owned airplane piloted by Iowa State University President Steven Leath last year have been removed from websites by the school or its foundation.

Leath had pledged in an interview “to be as open and transparent as possible” about questions surrounding his use of university planes.

The removed documents include flight records posted on the university’s website. Also removed was flight information posted on, which bills itself as the world’s largest flight tracking company.

Leath said the university removed the records on its site after an Associated Press report about Leath's plane mishap because they enabled a reporter to identify whom he was meeting. Leath claims the reporter asked “totally inappropriate” questions, including donations raised as a result of the meetings.

“You can still get the information, we’re glad to give it to you, we’re just going to take the donors' names and stuff off,” Leath told the Iowa State Daily on Oct. 5, according to a transcript of the interview published online by the university.

The records removed from the school's website did not list donor names, according to copies that the Register downloaded before their removal. Those records listed names of passengers on the planes, departure and arrival information, dates of the flights, number of miles flown and cost.

The university on Wednesday posted redacted copies of the records. Names of many nonemployee passengers have been redacted, including that of John Dudley, a professional bowhunter. Leath took Dudley on at least four donor-funded trips that mixed hunting and business.

In some cases, even the names of current ISU employees are blocked from public view. One state employee, for example, is shown only as "Frank."

Leath told the ISU Student Government Senate that “we’re going do everything (we can) to make as much freely available as absolutely possible.”

The Des Moines Register asked university spokesman John McCarroll to explain why the university had removed information from the FlightAware website that was available before the scandal. McCarroll responded with a one-sentence email, saying the information was blocked for both university-owned aircraft “for reasons of security, donor privacy and athletic recruiting.”

Leath last month vowed to stop flying himself and reimbursed the university’s foundation $15,000 to cover damage. He will answer questions from the Iowa Board of Regents about the issue during a meeting Wednesday and Thursday.

The Associated Press reported that Leath used one of the school’s planes multiple times to travel to and from North Carolina, where he owns a mountain home. He has denied the trips violated any university policies, saying he met and socialized with donors during at least some portions of the trips.

Removing the records from public view raises serious questions about the university’s intentions, said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and the Register's former opinion page editor.

“Transparency for them is apparently a synonym for obscurity,” Evans said. “It’s going to be a tough sale for the foundation to make the case they are good stewards of the foundation’s money when these types of actions are taken.”

State Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls and chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, is drafting legislation to require greater transparency from Iowa’s three state universities. He said the questions surrounding Leath's flights demonstrate that comprehensive regent accountability is necessary.

“You’d hope that they would do the right thing without a law, but right now it sounds like they need a law in place,” Danielson said.


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