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 February 14, 2021, Kim Swearingin, the Wayne County Treasurer, filed formal complaint 21FC:0009, alleging that the Wayne County Board of Supervisors (Board) violated Iowa Code chapter 21.
In support of her complaint, Ms. Swearingin alleged that on February 8, 2021, one member of the three members of the Board visited her office to discuss the budget. When she asked to have the budget discussion in a public forum, the board member left. Later that day, two members of the Board visited her office, again to discuss the budget. This time a discussion ensued concerning her budget request for an additional $40,000 to pay for overtime and an additional staff person.
Later that day, Ms. Sweringin received an email from the county auditor with the $40,000 budget increase removed. This revised budget was signed by the two board members who visited her office.
The county attorney responded to the complaint on February 26, 2021. In his response, he stated that the Board is required to meet with every county officer or department head pursuant to Iowa Code section 331.433. He added that because no action was taken to delete the requested budget increase during the meeting with Ms. Swearingin, there was no meeting as defined by the Iowa Code.
The county attorney also stated that during this meeting Ms. Swearingin was advised that the additional $40,000 would not be approved because the two board members considered it for the political purpose of grooming a successor.
Iowa Code section 21.2(2) defines a meeting for the purposes of open meetings:
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.
Iowa Code section 331.433 refers to county budget estimates:
331.433 Estimates submitted by departments. 1. On or before January 15 of each year, each elective or appointive officer or board, except tax certifying boards as defined in section 24.2, subsection 2, having charge of a county office or department, shall prepare and submit to the auditor or other official designated by the board an estimate, itemized in the detail required by the board and consistent with existing county accounts, showing all of the following: a. The proposed expenditures of the office or department for the next fiscal year. b. An estimate of the revenues, except property taxes, to be collected for the county by the office during the next fiscal year. 2. On or before January 20 of each year, the auditor or other designated official shall compile the various office and department estimates and submit them to the board. In the preparation of the county budget the board may consult with any officer or department concerning the estimates and requests and may adjust the requests for any county office or department.
Iowa Code section 331.433 allows a board of supervisors to consult with officers or department heads to discuss budget estimates. It does not exempt such action from complying with the requirements of Iowa Code chapter 21. Therefore, any time members of a governmental body gather with a county official or department head to deliberate or take action on a policy-making duty, that gathering is subject to the requirements of open meetings laws.
From the information provided by both parties, it appears that the February 8, 2021, gathering of the two board members with Ms. Swearingin concerning her budget request resulted in deliberation even if a final vote did not occur.
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:0009 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 March 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 third board member is married to Ms. Swearingin and did not participate in the meeting in her office. He also did not participate in any deliberation or action concerning her budget request at subsequent Board meetings.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of March, 2021, to:
Alan Wilson, Wayne County Attorney