IPIB Information on Open Meetings/Public Records & COVID-19
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Iowa Code chapter 21
1. Governor Reynolds Declaration
2. IPIB NEWS RELEASE - March 11, 2020 Open Meetings: Electronic Meetings for a Governmental Body
With Iowa cases of novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) has been asked how a governmental body can hold open meetings and still protect the public from the possible spread of the virus.
Iowa Code section 21.8 outlines the guidelines to hold an electronic meeting when there are valid concerns that an in-person meeting is “impossible or impractical”.
To hold an electronic meeting all of the following must occur:
- Public access to the conversation of the meeting must be available.
- The provisions of section 21.4 (notice) must be followed. (The place of the meeting is the place from which the communication originates or where public access is provided to the conversation.)
- Minutes must be kept and must include a statement explaining why an in-person meeting was impossible or impractical.
Iowa Code section 21.4 provides the requirements that must be followed if an emergency meeting with less than 24 hours notice is held:
- If 24 hours notice is impossible or impracticable, provide as much notice as reasonably possible.
- The nature of the good cause for holding the meeting without 24 hours notice must be stated in the minutes of the meeting.
The IPIB recommends that you discuss how and when to hold an electronic meeting with your legal counsel. You may also contact the IPIB to discuss ways to be safe and transparent through the IPIB website (www.ipib.iowa.gov) or by telephone (515-725-1781).
3. From the Iowa League of Cities - Guidance for Holding Electronic Meetings
In light of recent federal and state agency warnings related to COVID-19, cities may feel the need to conduct city council and board/commission meetings electronically. This is permitted under Section 21.8 of the state code and a recent press release from the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) offers guidance on how to comply with the law.
In most cases in the past, the use of Section 21.8 was to allow a single council member to join a meeting electronically from a remote location (typically via conference call). However, the state code does permit an electronic meeting where all members participate remotely when an in-person meeting is "impossible or impractical." In either case, the city must ensure there is public access to the meeting and the notice requirements still apply (at least 24 hours before the meeting, a notice and agenda must be posted). Minutes of the meeting must also be taken and include a statement detailing why an in-person meeting could not be used. If a conference call or video conference is to be used, providing call-in details and/or a link to the online meeting to the public can help provide reasonable access.
For cities doing electronic meetings, here are a few ideas to help ensure they are successful:
- Research and choose platform that suits the city's needs (there are numerous conference call and web conferencing options, including Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex and more)
- Assign city official to manage the meeting software
- Test meeting software prior to meeting
- List electronic meeting details on meeting agenda/notice to the public (include call-in and web conference details, provide instructions to public on how they can join meeting)
- At beginning of meeting, mayor announces how public can participate (if applicable), procedures for making comments and have all speakers identify themselves before speaking
- Meeting manager should be prepared to mute/unmute remote speakers as necessary throughout meeting to minimize interruptions
- Use roll call voting to ensure each council member vote is easily understood
- If possible, record meeting so it can be shared with public (this does not replace the requirement to complete minutes of the meeting)
Related to this is the possibility of needing to hold a meeting without providing 24 hours' notice for emergency purposes. This is permitted under Section 21.4 of the state code, which says if 24 hours' notice is impossible, the city shall provide as much notice as possible. Also, the city must explain in the minutes the reason for holding the meeting without providing 24 hours' notice.
Iowa Code chapter 22
2. IPIB News Release - April 15, 2020 Public Records: Access to records held by a governmental body
Q&A from the Iowa Public Information Board
Question: How am I able to view public records if the government body’s office is closed to the public?
Answer: Normally, Iowa Code sections 22.2(1) and 22.3(1) require a government body to allow in-person access for a member of the public to view a public record. Iowa Code section 22.4 establishes the normal office hours for such access. However, on April 10, 2020 and renewed again on September 18, 2020, the Governor of the State of Iowa issued a proclamation that temporarily modified such access. (see proclamation referenced above)
Contact the government body by mail, telephone, or email to request copies of the records you seek. The record custodian may also have other ways to access the records you want. Some records may also be available on a website maintained by the government body. Once this suspension is lifted, in-person access and hours will resume.
You may also contact the IPIB to discuss ways to access public records by telephone (515-725-1781) or through our website (www.ipib.iowa.gov).
Welcome to IPIB
Welcome to the website of the Iowa Public Information Board. The IPIB is a one-stop destination to answer your questions or address your concerns regarding Chapters 21 and 22, Iowa’s open meetings and public records laws. On this site you’ll find forms to enable you to ask questions about the law or to file a complaint if you believe the law is not being followed. We’ve also included a great deal more information about Iowa’s Sunshine Laws. In the future watch for news, Sunshine Law training materials and more.
Please note: The board’s jurisdiction is limited to issues involving open meetings and public records, and complaints must be filed within 60 days of the alleged violation. The Board treats written and electronic communications to it as public records subject to disclosure, except when the board determines an exemption or other provision of law prohibits or limits release of some or all of a communication's contents. If you think the communication you are considering making to the board would qualify for confidential treatment under Code section 22.7 or another provision of law, you should discuss this with the board's executive director or deputy director prior to submission.