The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Revised Dismissal Order:
On December 28, 2020, Eric Henely filed formal complaint 20FC:0132, alleging that the Gilbert Community School Board (Board) violated Iowa Code chapter 21.
Mr. Henely alleged that on November 19, 2020, the Board held a meeting scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. with electronic access provided to the public. He alleged that at 5:28 p.m. he attempted to access the meeting, but was unsuccessful. He sent an email requesting assistance at 5:38 p.m. At 5:42 p.m., he received a response stating that the meeting was late in starting. He was able to gain access to the meeting at 5:42 p.m.
On accessing the meeting, Mr. Henely alleged that the board members were conversing among themselves. The meeting was then muted, with visual observation available. At 5:43 p.m., Mr. Henely sent another email to the Board concerning the lack of audio. He further alleged that the audio remained muted for another four minutes. The meeting was called to order and the audio was reconnected at 5:46 p.m.
Mr. Henely asked that the IPIB order the Board to open electronic access at least five minutes prior to the start of any meeting or before a quorum is present. He further requests that audio remain functional anytime a quorum of the Board is present and that audio not be muted during a meeting.
Legal counsel for the Board responded to the complaint on January 7, 2021. She indicated that the audio access was available while the Board was meeting as defined by Iowa Code section 21.2(2):
21.2(2). “Meeting” means 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.
Legal counsel stated that the Board members present prior to the meeting starting at 5:46 p.m. were not deliberating or taking action upon any matter within the scope of their duties as required by this code section. The social conversations between Board members did not include discussion of agenda items or policy-making.
During the review of the original order on January 21, 2021, Mr. Henely alleged that the Board continues to lock the building doors to prevent access to their meetings. When questioned about this, the Board responded that only one door is unlocked during the meetings to avoid unmonitored access to other areas of the building. The consulting firm mistakenly went to the wrong door initially.
The Board could have easily avoided this complaint by allowing audio access during the time the Board was waiting to start the meeting. Mr. Henely is correct in his observation that if the meeting was available for in-person attendance, those conversations would have been accessible to the public.
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 meet those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 20FC:0132 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 February 18, 2021. 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. Legal counsel was not present during the meeting. She contacted the board secretary for information about the allegations in the complaint. In addition, she provided IPIB staff the links to the video recordings of the meeting:
IPIB staff reviewed the video recordings. The audio was on for about thirteen seconds of the total of about 4 minutes, 41 seconds of recordings prior to the beginning of the meeting. Once the meeting began at 5:46 p.m., the audio was provided. During the silent portions of the recordings, people can be seen engaging in conversations with each other, viewing laptops, and laughing. There does not appear to be any organized conversations. The only substantive matter on the agenda was a presentation by the consultants for the superintendent search.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of February, 2021, to:
Gilbert Community School Board, Carrie Weber, legal counsel