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 13, 2021, DeAnn Sindergard filed formal complaint 21FC:0063, alleging that the City of Rolfe violated Iowa Code chapter 21 on July 3, 2021. She alleged that on that date, three out of five city council members were photographed sitting around a picnic table at a campsite, and the photo was posted on Facebook.
Ms. Sindergard provided a photograph of some adults, children, and animals gathered around two picnic tables near a recreational vehicle at what appears to be a campground. She alleged that the council members then met on July 10, 2021, at a properly noticed council meeting and took action on an issue with limited discussion. This led her to believe that they must have discussed the issue while camping.1
Rick Jones, one of the council members accused of violating Iowa Code chapter 21, responded on July 25, 2021, stating that he was camping at West Bend, Iowa, on the day in question and attended a social event prior to the fireworks display. He also stated that the council agenda packet was not received until July 9, 2021, so he was unaware of the issues scheduled for the July 12, 2021, council meeting.2
Another council member, Ryan Peters, submitted a response on July 26, 2021. He stated that he and his family were present at West Bend, camping with his brother and family, and had social contact with Rick Jones and Carrie Frerk and their families. He stated that the photo shows the families and children socializing over drinks and ‘smores’ while waiting for the fireworks display. He added that he had not yet received the council agenda packet on July 3, 2021.
Carrie Frerk also filed a response to the complaint on July 26, 2021. She stated that she and her family often attend the West Bend Fourth of July celebrations. This year her children were involved in several of the activities, and they camped there for the weekend. She added that the families socialized during the weekend, as their children are friends and “we have all known each other for several years.” She noted that she did not receive the agenda packet until July 9, 2021.
Iowa Code section 21.2(2) defines a meeting as “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.”
The Iowa Code allows for gatherings of members of a governmental body for social purposes. Family social activities can be limited in small communities such as the City of Rolfe with a population of 540. Attending a fireworks display and Fourth of July activities with friends and families is a social activity and does not meet the definition of a meeting.
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 fulfill those requirements.
IT IS SO ORDERED: Formal complaint 21FC:0063 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 19, 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.A letter from “Concerned Rolfe Citizen” was sent to the IPIB alleging the same incident. No contact information was provided.
2. The council meeting was held on July 12, 2021, not July 10, 2021.
CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
This document was sent by electronic mail on the ___ day of August, 2021, to:
City of Rolfe