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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Des Moines City Council often approves legal settlements without providing the public with some important info, like the cost and basic facts of a case.

Why it matters: Citizens deserve to know more about how their money is being spent. Ideally, that information should be provided before council votes, since the total payouts over a calendar year are significant.

  • 2017: $949,199
  • 2018: $4,197,036
  • 2019: $1,128,340
  • 2020: $373,493

Last week, for example, there were two "claim settlements & billings," but little detail:

What's happening: City Attorney Jeff Lester told Axios that the council is not voting blindly.

  • The council receives confidential communications before meetings and has often discussed cases in closed sessions, he said.

The state of play: Government settlements in Iowa are public record.

  • But Axios' request to DSM for proposed settlement agreements prior to a council vote was denied. Lester tells us that’s because there are technically no agreements before both sides have executed the agreements.

Here's what Axios obtained about those two settlements approved last week through a public-record request:

  • $10,000 to settle the personal-injury lawsuit. Moore-Johnson, of Des Moines, alleged tall grass at Good Park covered a deep hole that caused a foot injury in July 2018.
  • $39,439 to settle a sewer backup in the property damage claim. (The information Axios was provided does not include the address or the date of the backup.)

The bottom line: DSM — with its online publications, citizen news alerts, and video broadcasts of most public meetings — is among the most transparent governmental bodies in the state.

  • But transparency in litigation is important and is one area that the city could and should improve.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

Go deeper

Chauvin trial leaves cities, activists across America on edge

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The impact of the Derek Chauvin trial is reverberating far beyond the walls of the downtown Minneapolis courtroom.

The state of play: With the trial set to enter its third week, activists across America are watching the proceedings unfold with heavy skepticism that what they perceive as justice will be served.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The dispiriting housing boom

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's a discouraging scene: Bidding wars, soaring prices, and fears that homeownership is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans. We're in a housing frenzy, driven by a massive shortage of inventory — and no one seems to be happy about it.

Why it matters: Not all bubbles burst. Real estate, in particular, tends to rise in value much more easily than it falls. Besides, says National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun, this "is not a bubble. It is simply lack of supply."

Updated 7 hours ago - World

China's COVID vaccines have low efficacy rates, official says

China Centers for Disease Control director Gao Fu at a March event in Beijing, China. Photo: Han Haidan/China News Service via Getty Images

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's director said Saturday authorities are considering mixing COVID-19 vaccines because the country's domestically made doses "don't have very high protection rates," per AP.

Why it matters: The remarks by the Gao Fu at a news conference in the southwestern city of Chengdumark mark the first time a Chinese health official has spoken publicly about the low efficacy of vaccines made in China.