Van Stelton / Osceola County Public Safety Commission - Chapter 21 - how meeting was conducted - outside IPIB jurisdiction and legally insufficient
4 October 2013
Virgil Van Stelton
2025 Olive Ave.
Sibley, IA 51249
RE: Formal complaint concerning the Osceola County Public Safety Commission, September 11, 2013, meeting. IPIB Case No. 13FC:0021
Dear Mr. Van Stelton:
The Iowa Public Information Board met on October 3, 2013, and reviewed your complaint. Upon review and discussion of the attached memorandum, the Board voted to adopt the recommendations made and dismiss this complaint.
Margaret E. Johnson
September 27, 2013
Memo to the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB)
RE: Formal Complaints from Rochelle Buchman, Virgil Van Stelton and George Braaksma concerning the Osceola County Public Safety Commission (Commission)
Ms. Buchman’s formal complaint was filed by email on September 19, 2013. Ms. Buchman alleges that on September 11, 2013, the Osceola Public Safety Commission committed the following improper activities:
1. Chair Jerry Johnson signed claims for payment before the meeting was called to order.
2. Deputy Sheriff Kevin Wollmuth voted without authority during the meeting.
3. Chair Jerry Johnson adjourned the meeting at the end of the Agenda without asking for a Motion.
4. Chair Jerry Johnson inaccurately answered a question from another Commission member. Virgil Van Stelton filed a formal complaint on September 29, 2013, alleging
similar concerns about the September 11, 2013 meeting. George Braaksma’s complaint about exclusion from the agenda was received on September 30, 2013.
Ms. Buchman also provided statements attributed to others reporting that Chair Jerry Johnson denied requests from non-Board members to be placed on the Agenda for the September 11, 2013, meeting. All three complainants request the IPIB “fine each of them and remove them from office.”
In addition to the formal complaint, Ms. Buchman forwarded a DVD recording of the meeting, which was received on September 23, 2013. The 30 minute recording was reviewed.
After review of all documents and the video provided by the Complainant, my findings are as follows:
1. The Osceola County Public Safety Commission is a governmental body subject to the requirements of Iowa Code Chapters 21 and 22.
2. The Commission has nine members, consisting of representatives from the county and from cities within Osceola County under the terms of a 28E agreement entered
into for coordination of law enforcement services.
3. The Commission met on September 11, 2013, in an open meeting. Business was conducted pursuant to the Agenda, including review and approval of the pending
claims for payment, bids on the sale of two vehicles, discussion concerning the newly selected Commission attorney, and setting of the next meeting date. The tape
recording does not show activities prior to the meeting being called to order.
4. It was not possible to determine whether the deputy sheriff voted on any matters, as all votes were voice votes. There appeared to be a quorum present without
including the deputy sheriff. There is no evidence before the IPIB to indicate that the deputy sheriff could not vote.
5. At approximately 25 minutes into the meeting, a question is asked of the Chair by a Board member: “”We did get a different lawyer?” The Chair replies affirmatively.
The remainder of the conversation is difficult to determine, but it appears that the question then asked is “he hasn’t gotten back to us?” to which the Chair replies,
“No, not yet.”
6. At the conclusion of the Agenda items, the Chair stated “Ok, nothing further…” at which time a member of the public interrupted and asked to speak. The Chair denied
her request and stated “Meeting adjourned.” As the audience member continues to speak, the Chair and most Board members leave the meeting room.
The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is tasked with the oversight and enforcement of violations of Chapters 21 and 22 of the Iowa Code, concerning open meetings and public records. The IPIB jurisdiction is specifically limited to questions and concerns under these statutes. While a valid issue might be raised under the obligations and responsibilities imposed by another law or rule, it would not fall within the limited jurisdiction of the IPIB.
Although not specifically noted on the formal complaint, it appears that the complainants are reporting a violation only of Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code (Open Meetings), although Chapter 22 (Public Records) is checked on the form. However, there are no Chapter 21 violations observed on the recording of the meeting, and Chapter 22 is not applicable.
There is nothing within the confines of Chapter 21 that directs the actions of a governmental body as to voting rights, claim-paying authority, or answering questions. Some of these issues may be addressed in the authorization documents of the Commission, such as the 28E agreement or the by-laws. However, those issues are beyond the jurisdiction of the IPIB.
Chapter 21 allows a governing body the ability to establish “reasonable rules for the conduct of its meetings to assure those meetings are orderly, and free from interference or interruption by spectators.” (Section 21.7). There is no mandate that a government body provide a forum at each meeting for citizens to speak, although some groups do provide regular time on an agenda for public comment.
Chapter 21 does not direct how a meeting should be adjourned. Robert’s Rules of Order does allow for adjournment without a motion in certain circumstances. Enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order is beyond the jurisdiction of the IPIB.
Iowa Code Section 23.8 provides two options for action by the IPIB upon receipt of a complaint, the second of which reads:
“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, I recommend that the IPIB dismiss all three complaints pursuant to 497 Iowa Administrative Code Section 2.1(2)(b) on the grounds that it is outside the jurisdiction of the IPIB and legally insufficient.
Margaret E. Johnson