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Formal Complaints


Shawn Harden/Buchanan County Board of Supervisors - Acceptance Order


The Iowa Public Information Board

In re the Matter of:

Shawn Harden, Complainant

And Concerning:

Buchanan County Board of Supervisors,  Respondent


                     Case Number: 18FC:0020


                          Acceptance Order

COMES NOW Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Acceptance Order.

On March 15, 2018, Shawn Harden, Buchanan County Attorney, filed this formal complaint against the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors (Board).  He alleged that the Board violated Iowa Code chapter 21 when two of the three Board members met with a doctor at a mental health center to discuss a county government issue on March 14, 2018.

The two named Board members acknowledged that the meeting took place and that there was no notice, agenda, or minutes of the meeting and that it was not an open meeting.  They responded that the meeting could be considered as ministerial in nature as no formal action was taken during their discussion with the doctor.

Mr. Harden noted in his complaint that both of the named supervisors have had training in open meetings requirements.  He requested that the IPIB provide more extensive training to the Board.

Iowa Code section 22.1(2) defines a meeting as a gathering of a majority of 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.”   

While this section states that the definition does 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,” it appears from the statements made by the two supervisors that they did discuss the expenses the county has incurred regarding an inmate in the facility.

As noted on the IPIB website:


In Dooley v. Johnson County Bd. of Sup'rs. (2008 WL 5234382), the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that the board did not violate the open meetings law when members met privately with a consulting company to review a preliminary draft of a report, asked questions and elicited clarification. However, the Court noted, “Gathering for this purpose appears dangerously close to ‘deliberation.’ Even absent any intention to deliberate, such discussions could arise effortlessly. We believe the board's decision to review the draft in this fashion was a poor one.”


Iowa Code section 23.8 requires that a complaint be within the IPIB’s jurisdiction, appear legally sufficient, and could have merit before the IPIB accepts a complaint.  This complaint meets those requirements.


IT IS SO ORDERED:  Formal complaint 18FC:0020 is accepted pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(1) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(a).  Parties are directed to engage in reaching an informal resolution, with the assistance of IPIB staff, pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.9.

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 April 19, 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 April, 2018.




This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of April, 2018, to:

Shawn Harden

Buchanan County Board of Supervisors