Heather Thornton/Page County - Dismissal Order
The Iowa Public Information Board
In re the Matter of:
Heather Thornton, Complainant
Page County, Respondent
Case Number: 17FC:0094
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Dismissal Order:
On December 21, 2017, Heather Thornton filed formal complaint 17FC:0094 against the Page County Board of Supervisors (Board). In her complaint she alleged violations of Iowa Code chapters 21 (open meetings) and 22 (public records).
Her allegation as to Chapter 21 is that the Board met in illegal closed sessions sometime prior to December 12, 2017. She based this allegation on a discussion that occurred in open session on that date, as well as a document that was circulated at the meeting indicating that “we” had determined that it was appropriate for Page County to have a veterans administration executive director rather than an administrator. The current administrator would not qualify as an executive director, as the new position required the hiring of a military veteran and the termination of the current employee.
There was no evidence presented to meet the requirement that the violation occurred within 60 days of the filing of the complaint, as required by Iowa Code section 23.7(1). Further investigation also revealed that the Board had discussed this issue at previous meetings with proper notice and that the document in question was drafted by the county attorney and not the Board.
Based upon the additional information, it is apparent that the open meeting complaint is legally insufficient and should not be accepted by the IPIB.
Ms. Thornton also alleged a violation of public records law. She alleged that the Board violated public records laws by refusing to provide public records she requested on December 14, 2017. Her request was for copies of “all correspondence between members of the Page County Board of Supervisors pertaining to the termination of employment of the Page County Veteran’s (sic) Affairs Administrator and the elimination of the county position; of Page County’s Veteran’s (sic) Affairs Administrator”, and not for “minutes of meetings” as stated in her December 21, 2017, complaint.
Ms. Thornton did receive the correspondence records requested on February 9, 2018, after counsel for the Board compiled all of the records. She received the copies of minutes through the Board website sometime prior to December 28, 2017.
Counsel for the Board noted that it took more time than anticipated to collect the correspondence records. Ms. Thornton was not advised of this delay. The IPIB recommends that it is best practices to communicate any potential delays, as well as to provide the records as available and not to delay a release by waiting for the entire request to be completed unless that is requested.
Iowa Code section 23.8 requires that a complaint be within the IPIB’s jurisdiction, appear legally sufficient, and have merit before the IPIB accepts a complaint. This complaint does not fulfill those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 17FC:0094 is dismissed as legally insufficient pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(2) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(b).
Pursuant to Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(3), the IPIB may “delegate acceptance or dismissal of a complaint to the executive director, subject to review by the board.” The IPIB will review this Order on March 15, 2018. Pursuant to IPIB rule 497-2.1(4), the parties will be notified in writing of its decision.
By the IPIB Executive Director
Margaret E. Johnson, J.D.
Dated this _____ day of _______, 2018.
Cc: Heather Thornton
Ann Smisek, counsel for Page County Board of Supervisors