Lauris Olson / Story County Board of Supervisors - Chapter 21
8 October 2013
1705 Buchanan Drive
Ames, IA 50010
RE: Complaint 13FC:0011 – concerning an open meeting violation (Chapter 21) alleged to have occurred on July 22, 2013, by members of the Story County Board of Supervisors
Dear Ms. Olson:
The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) received your complaint of September 18, 2013. In that complaint you alleged: On or before 8:30 a.m. Monday, July 22, 2013, Rick Sanders and Paul Toot, two of the three supervisors on the Story County Board of Supervisors, violated Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code (open meetings) by attending a meeting with the head of the county’s Community Services and three volunteers without posting the meeting agenda at least 24 hours in advance.
Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Code Rule 497-2.1(3), the IPIB may delegate acceptance or dismissal of a complaint to the Executive Director. The decision of the Executive Director is subject to review by the Board. Your complaint does fall within the jurisdiction of the IPIB, as it timely alleges a violation of Chapter 21.
A copy of the complaint was provided to the Story County Attorney for review and response. Jessica Reynolds, First Assistant Story County Attorney, responded to your concerns in a letter dated October 2, 2013. In that response, she contends that the event on July 22, 2013, was not a meeting within the definition of Chapter 21.2(2).
Iowa Code section 21.2, paragraph 2, defines the term “meeting” as used in the Open Meeting Law as follows:
2. “Meeting” means a gathering in person or by electronic means, formal or informal, of a majority of the members of a governmental body where there is deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body’s policy-making duties. Meetings shall not include a gathering of members of a governmental body for purely ministerial or social purposes when there is no discussion of policy or no intent to avoid the purposes of this chapter.
Ms. Reynolds states that the event attended by Supervisors Sanders and Toot falls within the exception for gatherings that are “for purely ministerial or social purposes when there is no discussion of policy or no intent to avoid the purposes of this chapter.” To support that position, she notes that the purpose of the gathering was to provide orientation training for two new volunteers and to introduce supervisors to the new volunteers. A copy of her response is included as an attachment to this decision.
Determining whether a gathering is purely ministerial has been the subject of several Attorney General Opinions. One such opinion, Stork to O’Kane (81-7-4) noted that a gathering for “’purely ministerial purposes’ may include a situation in which members of a governmental body gather simply to receive information upon a matter within the scope of the body’s policy-making duties….” As long as the members do not engage in policy-making, such as deliberate or take action upon matters within the jurisdiction of the governmental body, the gathering does not fall within the definition of a meeting under Chapter 21. A gathering with the purpose of introducing volunteers to supervisors and providing training to volunteers would not provide for deliberation or taking action by the members attending.
In addition, the fact that this event was noted on the Supervisors’ calendars, without any attempt to hide their attendance, provides further support to the position that this was a ministerial function and not a private, secret or illegal meeting under Chapter 21.
Governmental bodies should always take care that such ministerial or social gatherings do not intentionally or unintentionally evolve into a meeting. A meeting could develop if “a majority of the members of a body engage in any discussion that focuses at all concretely of matters over which they may exercise judgment or discretion.” (Attorney General Opinion, Stork to O’Kane, 81-7-4.) There is no evidence that this occurred in this situation.
Iowa Code Section 23.8 provides two options for action by the IPIB upon receipt of a complaint, the second of which states:
“Determine that, on its face, the complaint is outside its jurisdiction, is legally insufficient, is frivolous, is without merit, involves harmless error, or relates to a specific incident that has previously been finally disposed of on its merits by the board or a court. In such a case the board shall decline to accept the complaint. If the board refuses to accept a complaint, the board shall provide the complainant with a written order explaining its reasons for the action.”
For the reasons set forth above, it is therefore ordered that the complaint is dismissed on the grounds that violations of Chapter 21 did not occur, making the complaint legally insufficient and without merit.
A copy of this Order is being forwarded to the Iowa Public Information Board for review at its next scheduled meeting on November 21.
Keith Luchtel, J.D.
cc: Story County Attorney