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 November 23, 2020, Bridget Pedersen filed formal complaint 20FC:0123 alleging that the Des Moines City Council (Council) violated Iowa Code chapter 21.
Ms. Pedersen alleged that on November 23, 2020, the Council work session was not open to the public, “in direct violation of Iowa Code chapter 21, section 21.8(1).” She did not provide any other details.
On November 24, 2020, the Des Moines Register reported that the Monday work session was “abruptly recessed” after the meeting was “unable to be viewed by the public.” The Register reported that a city spokesperson told the reporter that a “glitch” in the Zoom service prevented attendance by a number of people. The Register also reported that the work session was not livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Legal counsel responded to the complaint on December 2, 2020. In the response, counsel noted that the meeting in question was a work session, held to allow city staff and others to share information with the Council. Normally, no action is taken by the Council, although Council members can discuss each topic with presenters. Public comment is normally not a part of the work session, although contemporaneous access is provided to the public.
On November 23, 2020, counsel reported that the work session was properly noticed and was held electronically as allowed by Chapter 21. The Council utilized the Zoom Webinar format “in which speakers no longer had to be promoted ‘in’ to the Council grouping to speak.”
Counsel stated a technical “glitch” resulting from a Zoom outage impacted not only this meeting but other users of Zoom. Counsel provided screenshots of documentation of these outages in Des Moines as well as in other areas of the country.
According to legal counsel, the work session was held to present a customer satisfaction survey to the Council. Due to the loss of Zoom access, the meeting was stopped and rescheduled to a later date. The Council had not engaged in deliberation and took no action prior to the rescheduling of the meeting.
When the Council was advised that work sessions are normally not livestreamed on YouTube, staff ensured that the video recording of the 33 minutes of the meeting was made available that same morning.
Legal counsel also stated that the “Mayor, City Council and the City Manager all have been informed that if there is any doubt about connectivity and access to an electronic meeting and not just whether spectators can speak or not, that it cannot be called to order or that it must be adjourned when connectivity is lost after it is commenced.”
While it is accurate that the work session was not fully accessible to the public as required by Iowa Code section 21.8 and by the Governor’s Proclamation, once advised of this matter, the Council ended the meeting and rescheduled. The Council also has a new procedure in place to guard against any such problems with access in the future.
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.
Iowa Code section 23.8(2) allows the IPIB to dismiss a formal complaint when it “involves harmless error.” In this situation, no deliberation occurred, and the meeting was ended as soon as the lack of access was discovered. In addition, preventive procedures have been developed.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 20FC:0123 is dismissed as harmless error 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 December 17, 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
1. See also Governor’s Proclamation dated November 10, 2020, section 111, that allows electronic meetings due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions.
2. Because the Zoom Webinar format does not require granting access to participants, meeting organizers may not be aware when access is unavailable.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of December, 2020, to:
Jeffrey Lester, city attorney for the City of Des Moines