Gina Erickson/Des Moines County Board of Supervisors - Dismissal Order
The Iowa Public Information Board
In re the Matter of:
Gina Erickson, Complainant
Des Moines County Board of Supervisors, Respondent
Case Number: 18FC:0022
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Dismissal Order:
On March 20, 2018, at 8:54 a.m., Gina Erickson filed formal complaint 18FC:0022 against the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors (Board). She alleged that the Board violated Iowa Code chapter 21 on February 27, 2018, by continuing a meeting in the Board room following a properly noticed open meeting.
As evidence of the violation, Ms. Erickson provided a copy of a recording of the alleged improper meeting. The County has a video recording system that records meetings held in the Board room.
Ms. Erickson also provided a recording of a meeting held on October 31, 2017. This meeting is beyond the jurisdiction of the IPIB as it occurred more than 60 days prior to the filing of the complaint (see Iowa Code section 23.7(1)).
The February 27, 2018, recording shows conversations occurring between supervisors and other county employees. At times, one, two, or three of the three supervisors can be seen conversing with other county employees. There does not appear to be deliberation among the supervisors and no action is taken. The county employee is the primary speaker. There are comments made about Ms. Erickson, a county employee at the time, that could be described as ‘gossipy’.
Prior to the filing of this complaint, Ms. Erickson filed an informal complaint with the IPIB on March 18, 2018, and filed a request for advice on March 6, 2018, over this incident, as well as the Board’s common practice of doing ‘ride-alongs’ with the county engineer after meetings. This could be described as a ministerial function of the Board. However, it is easy for a ministerial gathering to become an improper meeting when the discussion becomes deliberative or decisions are made.
The IPIB has cautioned governmental bodies to avoid situations when a majority of the body’s members are gathered. This is especially problematic when there are only three members on a Board such as in Des Moines County. Information on this issue from the IPIB website was provided to the Des Moines County Attorney. The county attorney used this information to conduct a training with the Board on March 20, 2018, at their 9:00 a.m. meeting that day.
According to the meeting minutes:
County Attorney Amy Beavers presented an Open Meetings update to the Supervisors. She presented to the Board a refresher and update and stated as a three-member board no two members can discuss any business outside of a public meeting. The Open Meetings definition is “Any gathering in person or by electronic means, whether formally noticed or informally occurring, a majority of the members, and at which there is any deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body’s policy-making duties”. A governmental body meeting does not include a purely ministerial or social gathering at which there is no discussion on policy or intent to avoid the Open Meetings Law, even if a quorum is present. She stated to engage all policy discussions at open meetings or work sessions as published on agendas. Agendas are published in a timely manner to the media. This allows the public an opportunity to know the discussions and ability to participate.
Outside legal counsel was arranged by the Board due to the possible conflict the county attorney would have with a complaint filed by one county employee against county elected officials. The legal counsel filed a response on March 30, 2018 (Exhibit 1, attached.) This response outlines various reasons why the complaint is legally insufficient. It also notes that the Board had initiated remedial steps prior to the filing of this complaint and completed the recommended remediation within hours of the filing of this complaint.
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 18FC:0022 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 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 _______, 2018.
Cc: Gina Erickson
Emily Ellingson, counsel for Des Moines County