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OPEN MEETINGS AND RECORDS LAW

 

     Our nation and state were founded on the principle that it is the government which serves and reports to its citizens.  In keeping with that principle, Iowa has laws mandating that governmental meetings and records be open to the public.  The Open Meetings Act is found at Iowa Code Chapter 21 and the Open Records Act is found at Iowa Code Chapter 22.         

Open Meetings Act.  The intent of this act is to assure that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions are easily accessible to the people.

The act applies to governmental bodies which are generally defined as a board, council, commission or other governing body of the state or political subdivisions. A meeting is defined as a gathering of a majority of the members of a governmental body where there is deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the body’s policy making duties. 

The act requires public notice of each meeting and that it be held in open session. There are some exceptions which allow a body to go into closed session upon an affirmative public vote of two thirds of the members.

It is notable that the public may use cameras or recording devices at any open session.

Open Records Act:  The Iowa Supreme Court has observed that the act is designed to open the doors of government to public scrutiny and to prevent government from secreting its decision-making activities from the public, on whose behalf it is its duty to act. 

The act applies to governmental bodies defined as the state as well as any county, city, township, school corporation, political subdivision, tax-supported district and some others.

The act provides that every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate its contents. The cost of copying records can be recovered by the governmental body.

Also, a government body shall not prevent the examination or copying of a public record by contracting with a nongovernment body to perform any of its duties or functions.

Of course, there are many exceptions to this.  The act details a list of at least 75 types of “confidential records” (with subparts) which are not to be released absent a court order.

Iowa Public Information Board.  Iowa Code Chapter 23 created a board to decide cases involving the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act.  As an agency, its decisions can be reviewed by the District Court.

Conclusion.    Transparent government is reflected by Iowa’s open meetings and records laws.  As is often the case, there are numerous exceptions to these laws and a careful reading may be necessary in a given situation.

 

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