The Iowa Public Information Board
COMES NOW, Margaret E. Johnson, Executive Director for the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB), and enters this Acceptance Order:
On January 20, 2021, Clint Fichter filed formal complaint 21FC:0005, alleging that the City of Avoca (City) violated Iowa Code chapter 21 by providing inadequate notice for an agenda item.
Mr. Fichter alleged that on January 19, 2021, the City held a regular council meeting with the agenda item: “Discussion and Possible action on RESOLUTION 21-0119-02: POLICIES AND PROCEDURES AS SET BY THE AVOCA CITY COUNCIL.” As part of this agenda item, the City voted to designate the official newspapers, select the city attorney, set the dates and locations for council meetings, select the Mayor Pro-Tem, and “retain all present city employees.”
The City responded to the complaint and stated that a similar resolution was used every year and had changed little over the years. The City also alleged that the complainant was aware of the contents of the resolution in question and questioned his motivation for filing the complaint.
Iowa Code section 21.4(1)(a) provides the requirements for an adequate agenda:
1. a. Except as provided in subsection 3, a governmental body shall give notice of the time, date, and place of each meeting including a reconvened meeting of the governmental body, and the tentative agenda of the meeting, in a manner reasonably calculated to apprise the public of that information. Reasonable notice shall include advising the news media who have filed a request for notice with the governmental body and posting the notice on a bulletin board or other prominent place which is easily accessible to the public and clearly designated for that purpose at the principal office of the body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held. (Emphasis added.)
Without acquiring a copy of the Resolution, it would be difficult to determine what policies and procedures were being reviewed and adopted by the City. The agenda item is insufficient and does not satisfy the requirements of Iowa Code section 21.4(1)(a). The agenda item should have been written so as to better apprise all citizens of the action contemplated. This is also the advice provided by the Iowa League of Cities.
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 meets those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 21FC:0005 is accepted pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.8(1) and Iowa Administrative Rule 497-2.1(2)(a). Parties shall cooperate with IPIB staff to reach an informal resolution as provided in Iowa Code section 23.9.
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, J.D.
1. The City alleged that Mr. Fichter drafted the Resolution when he was city manager. The City also alleged that Mr. Fichter has a conflict of interest as he is an employee of the newspaper. It was later determined that this resolution format had not been used while Mr. Fichter was employed by the City.
2. In response to an IPIB request for comment from the Iowa League of Cities, Mickey Shields, Director of Membership Services stated, “Now, we would say it is best in most cases to approve such policies separately. Or, if a city is grouping policy changes, they should be of the same nature (such as a few updates to the city financial accounting policy). I can see concern with grouping various types of policies into one "omnibus" resolution as it may be a little hard to follow. If a city prefers this method for routine policy updates/changes, we would tell them the agenda should detail the exact policies being considered (the agenda items could say something like "Consideration of Administrative Policy Changes" and then have sub-items that detail the list of proposed changes).”
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of February, 2021, to:
City of Avoca -- David Mitchell, city administrator and David Larson, city attorney