The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Dismissal Order:
On March 10, 2020, Zach Northway filed formal complaint 20FC:0029, alleging that the Craig City Council (Council) violated Iowa Code chapters 21 and 22.
Mr. Northway alleged that at a Council meeting on March 4, 2020, four council members refused to let him record the meeting. He also questioned the accuracy of Council minutes, alleging that the city clerk prepares the minutes prior to meetings and requires Council members to follow the proposed minutes. He also alleged that official business, i.e. “big issues”, are discussed and decided outside of public meetings, but did not provide any specific dates or other information.
On March 17, 2020, the Council responded to the complaint. The response stated that only one Council member told Mr. Northway he was not allowed to record meetings. The Mayor and another council member stated he could record the meetings.
As to the allegation about the minutes, the Council indicated that only the portion of the minutes concerning payment of monthly bills are prepared before the meeting. Normally, the minutes are prepared during the meeting and posted on the Council room door following the meeting.
The response noted that citizens routinely meet every Saturday for coffee. Often, there is discussion of city matters. However, according to the city clerk, these are considered “morning coffee at the old bank.” The gatherings are open to all residents and the public in general.
She added: “The council does not make a point of gathering -- they just show up for coffee, and yes, at times, there may be a quorum present, which to me is understandable in a city of less than 100.”
In a reply, Mr. Northway indicated that he had recorded the meeting without the knowledge of the Council and would provide a copy of the recording to refute the Council’s claim. He sent an electronic copy of the recording to the IPIB for review. In the recording, you can hear someone tell him he cannot record the meeting. Then, prior to the meeting’s start, a male voice states that taping should be preapproved.
The issue was not addressed again during the meeting.
Iowa Code section 21.7 specifically allows the recording of an open meeting. The Council should not require pre-approval for taping of a meeting, although reasonable rules can be made “for the conduct of its meeting to assure those meetings are orderly, and free from interference or interruption by spectators.”
A meeting is defined in Iowa Code section 21.2(2) 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.”
Based upon the information presented, the Saturday coffees appear to be social in nature. Council members should be careful, however, to avoid deliberation or action on city matters if they attend the gatherings.
Subsequent to the filing of this complaint, Mr. Northway sent additional concerns about Council activities that are not included in this order. He was advised to file a separate complaint.
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. At this time, the allegations do not provide a sufficient basis to find that the Council has violated Iowa Code chapter 21.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 20FC:029 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 June 18, 2020. 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,
1. Iowa Code section 21.7.
2. He alleged that on April 1, 2020, he was denied access to an open meeting, along with six other observers. Law enforcement was called to escort people from the building, citing a violation of the Governor’s proclamation concerning groups of 10 or more. However, the Council did not provide alternative access to the meeting as required by the Governor’s Proclamation of March 20, 2020.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of June, 2020, to:
Craig City Council