Rod Goodemote / Villisca Public Library / Chapter 21-the use of emails to conduct library business.
April 18, 2014
Rod Goodemote BY EMAIL ONLY
112 N. 3rd Ave.
Villisca, IA 50864
RE: Formal complaint 14FC:0017, concerning the Villisca Public Library Board (Amended by IPIB)
Dear Mr. Goodemote:
You filed a formal complaint on March 25, 2014, with the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB). In that complaint, you alleged that the Villisca Public Library Board has engaged in a series of improperly closed meetings, both electronically and physically. You provided copies of emails from the Board president. One such email from the president to you included the phrase “a quorum of the board would like to see it (the monthly expenses) itemized out.” Another email, from you to the board president includes the sentence “Public meeting work cannot be conducted via email because the discussion/decision is not available to the Public.” You also provided excerpts from emails sent to you from the President or other board members directing your activities as a library employee. Other board members were copied by the sender. There was a reply email on one email, discussing board training.
You request that the IPIB send the board president “a warning letter that these acts are in violation of Iowa Code and that this activity must cease.”
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 touches upon two possible violations of Chapter 21: holding meetings by email and holding private meetings without proper notice. You did not have any specific examples of physical meetings being held outside the regular public meetings. From other information provided to the IPIB, there have been times when the board president has been in the local eating establishment and spoken to constituents and other board members. There is no evidence that an illegal meeting took place, however.
Meetings are defined in the statue as “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.” (Iowa Code Section 21.2(2))
Eating lunch, reading board documents and chatting with fellow diners, even if some of the diners are also on the board, is not a meeting when there is no discussion of policy or intent to avoid the open meetings law. Especially in a small community, it is difficult for a board member to visit any public place without chatting with a constituent. It also appears that this board conducts a significant number of community fundraisers which would require constituent contact.
The library board president did acknowledge that her use of the word ‘quorum’ in her email to you was misleading. She stated that she used that word only to indicate that a majority of the board members had advised her individually in recent months that they wanted financial material produced in a certain format. No formal deliberation or vote had occurred prior to this email.
You requested that the IPIB warn the library board about violating the open meetings laws. The board has been provided with access to basic training on the IPIB website and warned to avoid situations where it could be inferred that illegal meetings were taking place.
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.”
Based on the results of our investigation, it is ordered that the complaint is dismissed as legally insufficient.
A copy of this Order is being forwarded to the Iowa Public Information Board for review at its next scheduled meeting on April 17, 2014. A copy of this order will also be provided to the Villisca Library Board.
Cc: Villisca Library Board