Dan Johnson / City Council of Mount Union, Iowa / Chapter 21
Iowa Public Information Board
In re the Matter of:
Dan Johnson, complainant
City Council of Mount Union, Iowa
Case Number: 14FC:0002
RE: Formal Complaint 14FC:0002, concerning Dan Johnson and the City Council of Mount Union. Six of the initial ten complaints were accepted by the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) and referred to IPIB staff for informal assistance. The other four complaints were dismissed. Based upon investigation, it is determined that illegal meetings occurred on December 4, 2013, and January 8, 2014, with insufficient notice under Iowa Code section 21.4; and action was illegally taken on a matter not appearing on the agenda in violation of Iowa Code section 21.4 on January 8, 2014. The IPIB found a pattern of three general violations occurred at multiple meetings -- notice not posted in compliance with Iowa Code section 21.4, agendas not specific as required by Iowa Code section 21.4, and minutes not in compliance with Iowa Code section 21.3. The parties, with the assistance of the IPIB and the Iowa League of Cities, cooperated to develop a remedial plan to address the violations. Dismissal is recommended because City officials have successfully addressed the issues presented.
On January 19, 2014, Dan Johnson filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) alleging that the City of Mount Union, IA, had violated various sections of Iowa Code Chapter 21 (open meetings). Subsequent to this initial complaint, he supplemented the complaint with additional documentation. During the investigation by the IPIB staff, additional violations were discovered.
The following issues were confirmed and accepted by the IPIB:
1. January 8, 2014, ‘emergency meeting’ held without proper notice (Iowa Code Section 21.4)
2. December 4, 2013, ‘emergency meeting’ held without proper notice (Iowa Code Section 21.4)
3. January 8, 2014, action taken on a matter not on the agenda (Iowa Code Section 21.4)
4. In general, notices not posted in compliance with Iowa Code Section 21.4 (notices posted at post office, bank, business, but not at meeting
5. In general, agendas lack detail and are often not in full compliance with Iowa Code Section 21.4
6. In general, minutes should be improved to meet standards of Iowa Code Section 21.3
The following issues were dismissed by the IPIB for the reasons stated:
1. Complaint concerning October 2012 Council meeting, not within the 60 day jurisdictional limitation of the IPIB (Iowa Code Section 23.7)
2. Complaint concerning February 13, 2013, agenda, not within the 60 day jurisdictional limitation of the IPIB (Iowa Code Section 23.7)
3. January 2014 irregularities concerning election of council members, not within the Chapter 21 or 22 jurisdiction of IPIB
4. Complaint concerning Council declining to put an item on the agenda for a Council meeting is not a violation of Chapter 21 (Iowa Code Section
As part of the IPIB investigation, communication was initiated with Mayor John Marek. Two attorneys were contacted. One attorney, Barbara Edmondson, was retained as counsel for civil litigation involving the City of Mount Union. Some closed meetings were held to deal with court matters that required quick action. However, the City could have provided adequate notice of at least one of these meetings.
The other attorney, Steve Ort, was retained to assist the City with open meeting compliance. Some of the policies and procedures the City had been observing were out-of-date and not fully compliant with Iowa Code Chapter 21. By following those policies and procedures, violations of chapter 21 resulted. It is the finding of the IPIB staff that the City’s violations were unintentional.
Iowa Code Subsection 23.6 (8) grants the IPIB the authority to determine if a violation of Chapter 21 has occurred. That subsection also grants the authority to “impose any other appropriate remedies calculated to declare, terminate, or remediate any violation of those chapters.” The root of these problems was a lack of understanding of legal requirements.
The Iowa League of Cities assists cities with training needs. The League agreed to provide appropriate training, mentoring and monitoring to bring the City of Mount Union into full compliance with open meetings and public records laws.
The League conducted training and oversight. A report was filed by the League (Attachment A).
Following the completion of the training by the League, all parties were provided a copy of the report and asked if any additional open meetings concerns remained. While there continue to be issues facing this small community, those issues concern matters not subject to Chapter 21 or 22. No additional concerns within the jurisdiction of the IPIB have been raised. Our investigation led to the conclusion that Mount Union’s problems stem from a lack of understanding and access to adequate training.
Iowa Code Section 23.9 envisions that the IPIB can work with parties to reach an informal resolution. That has been successfully achieved in this case. The IPIB has alternatives for further action as outlined in Iowa Administrative Code Section 497-2.2(4):
2.2(4) Board action. Upon receipt and review of the staff investigative report and any recommendations, the board may:
a. Redirect the matter for further investigation;
b. Dismiss the matter for lack of probable cause to believe a violation has occurred;
c. Make a determination that probable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred, but, as an exercise of administrative discretion, dismiss the
d. Make a determination that probable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred, designate a prosecutor and direct the issuance of a
statement of charges to initiate a contested case proceeding.
Based upon a successful resolution of the complaint, I recommend that the IPIB make a determination that probable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred, but, as an exercise of administrative discretion, dismiss the matter, as allowed by Administrative Rule 497-2.2(4).
Respectfully Submitted this 13th day of June, 2014.
Margaret E. Johnson
Iowa Public Information Board
502 E. 9th St., Third Floor
Des Moines, IA 50319
Mark Tomb and Bruce Bergman, Iowa League of Cities