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 July 15, 2020, Eric Henely filed formal complaint 20FC:0073, alleging that the Gilbert Community School District (District) violated Iowa Code chapter 21 on July 13, 2020.
Mr. Henely alleged that the District violated Iowa Code chapter 21 by limiting the number of people present in the room during the meeting. He arrived at the meeting location only to find that the building was locked. He was granted access to the building when two school board members arrived.
Once he was in the meeting room, the school board members and administration counted those present. Due to a shortage of seats, he was directed to sit in an adjacent room. As noted in formal complaint 20FC:0070, it was difficult to hear in that room. At this point, he announced he would go home and watch the meeting via Zoom.
While watching the meeting, he observed that the ten people present consisted of school board members and administration. No members of the public were physically present. In his opinion, this constituted an electronic meeting, requiring the notifications and minutes notations outlined in Iowa Code section 21.8.
Mr. Henely also raised concerns that it was possible for board members to have ongoing conversations before and after the recorded portion of the meeting that would not be seen by members of the public.
In addition, Mr. Henely alleged that the District violated Iowa Code section 21.8 by failing to include in the minutes a statement regarding the reason for an electronic meeting.
He asked that the IPIB take action against the District based upon his previous complaints about the District.
The agenda for the July 13, 2020, meeting does not indicate that the meeting is an electronic meeting. The meeting was available for contemporaneous access through YouTube. The agenda specifically stated that attendance would be limited to 10 persons at a time due to COVID-19 safety concerns and provided information for access through YouTube.
Because the meeting was not an electronic meeting pursuant to Iowa Code section 21.8, there was no need to indicate a reason for an electronic meeting on the agenda or in the minutes. The District did not violate Iowa Code section 21.8.
Beginning in March 2020, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has issued proclamations that have granted governmental bodies the ability to adopt rules modifying open meetings procedures. Section 124 of the proclamation in effect at the time of this meeting stated, in part:
“I also temporarily suspend those statutes to the extent they could be interpreted to prevent a governmental body from limiting the number of people present at an in-person location of the meeting, provided that the governmental body provides a means for the public to participate by telephone or electronically as provided in this section.”
Iowa Code section 21.7 allows a governmental body to make and enforce “reasonable rules for the conduct of its meetings.” Allowing public comment is not required pursuant Chapter 21, although most governmental bodies do allow some public comment during a meeting. Many governmental bodies have rules concerning such public comment, even prior to the issuance of this proclamation by the Governor.
There was contemporaneous access available to the public to the deliberations and votes taken by the District at this meeting. Iowa Code chapter 21, as modified by the Governor’s proclamation, was not violated by the District.
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 does not meet those requirements. A complaint is not accepted based upon the number of complaints previously filed by the complainant unless it meets these requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 20FC:073 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 August 20, 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. His previous complaints are 20FC:0039, 20FC:0053, 20FC:0054, and 20FC:0070.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of August, 2020, to:
Gilbert Community School District
Drew Bracken, legal counsel