Lelis shines in the daily differences of her job

Written by Jeff Budlong | Photo by Christopher Gannon
Jan. 23, 2024

Informal portrait of Ann Lelis in Beardshear Hall.

Ann Lelis' job appears black and white. After all, she works within the rules and regulations of the law. But she has learned working in the university general counsel's office means never make assumptions and be ready for anything.

Lelis is the office's paralegal aiding six attorneys, assisting with research and preparing information for any upcoming litigation. But that is just a portion of what she does.

Public records requests to the university consume much of her time, and she also serves as the policy administrator, wearing several hats any given day.

"There is no typical day," Lelis said.

That is what drew the 2004 Iowa State graduate back to the university in 2021. She knew she wanted to do something related to the law with her sociology and criminal justice degree, but she never envisioned the breadth of responsibilities she has now.

"Handling records requests and policy administration are not things you see out in the corporate world or in a law firm," said associate general counsel Heather Smith. "But because we are a public institution, these are important responsibilities and it shows in the increased role Ann plays."

She can handle the oddness -- because there are a lot of odd requests -- and just tackles it every day.

Heather Smith, associate general counsel

Public records

On average, Lelis deals with 350 open records requests -- mostly through email -- each year. 

"I respond to each request to let them know it has been received, and let the person know if there are any charges related to the request," she said.

The most common requests include financial and budget records, contracts and employee compensation. A majority of those come from media outlets across the nation. Newsmaking events, such as the additional schools joining the Big 12 Conference, increase the number of inquiries.

"She can handle the oddness -- because there are a lot of odd requests -- and just tackles it every day," Smith said.

The first hour of work to complete a request is free, but each additional hour has a payment schedule. The ISU employees or departments she works with estimate the time needed to fulfill the task, then Lelis invoices the person requesting the information. Payment must be received before work begins. Once it is, Lelis contacts the people across campus she needs to gather the necessary information. She said people skills are a significant part of the job because she must be able to identify and work with those who have a range of expertise.

"There are so many areas of interest at the university, from research to athletics. It makes it different every day and I am always learning new things," Lelis said. "Developing relationships makes the whole process much easier because I know who I have to contact."

Once she receives the information, Lelis must review all of it -- some requests can be thousands of documents. She strikes out any confidential information, guided by Iowa Code Section 22.7, which details 70-plus exemptions for public records. Her work with researchers is especially important, both to understand their work and to avoid releasing potentially proprietary information.

"After doing so many of these, you have a pretty good idea of what can and can't be released," she said. "Having the Iowa Code and just being in the general counsel office with a lot of knowledgeable people I can ask makes it an easier process."

Time management

Lelis juggles multiple requests concurrently, collecting information and reviewing all documents before sending them off to the requestor. She keeps a spreadsheet to track the progress of each request.

"It really is just prioritizing them as they come in, determining if I have everything for one, if not, moving on to the next and waiting," she said. "They can get really involved, especially if it is with two or more departments."

Twice a month Lelis posts all requests to the Iowa State public records website to satisfy a state Board of Regents requirement instituted in 2013.

Policy duties

When she is not working on records requests, Lelis also is Iowa State's policy administrator, overseeing all aspects of the university's policy library. The policy library provides a central place for all university-level policies and associated documents that deal with a range of topics from acceptable standards of conduct to the process of granting individuals benefits. She helps ensure ISU policies comply with those of the regents, the state and the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act.

The library contains more than 200 policies, five that Lelis helped usher through the review process since taking up the role, in addition to numerous updates to existing policies.

"I chair the Policy Library advisory committee, so if someone wants to bring forward a new or updated policy, I work with them to bring it to the committee and facilitate the review of the potential policy," she said. "If it's approved, it goes into the policy library."