IPIB Monthly Column - Advisory Boards or Committees (Chapter 21)
When does an advisory board or committee have to comply with the open meetings law?
Iowa courts have not yet definitively answered that question, but they do give general guidance. The basic idea is if an advisory group makes recommendations to a governmental body, then the advisory group is likely covered by the open meetings law. On the other hand, if the advisory group only provides objective factual information (without any corresponding advice or recommendations) to the governmental body, then the advisory group is probably not subject to the open meetings law. The challenge comes in determining at what point the “information” provided by an advisory group crosses the line from “fact-finding” to “advice” giving. If an advisory group gets too close to the line between “information” and “advice,” it is likely subject to the open meetings law.
Advisory groups and the application of the open meetings statute is a murky area of the law. The answer in large part is determined by how these groups are formed and their “charter”. The applicable statutory provisions in Iowa Code Section 21.2 contain the clause “to develop and make recommendations on public policy.” The crux of the matter is the meaning of this clause. Some have inferred from a statement made by the Iowa Supreme Court that it means more than just giving advice. From the context of the statement giving rise to that inference, if the specific issue is presented to the Court a likely resolution would seem to be an examination of whether public policy is influenced and to what degree. A test could be to examine how the creating governmental body intends to use the product it expects to receive from the group. If the creating body plans to take formal action on the product itself, the group could expect to be subject to the open meetings law. But, if the charge given the group is to merely gather information, without recommendation, for use by the parent governmental body to aid the parent in its development of public policy, the open meetings law would not apply. Certainly the quoted clause has meaning. Without it, all such groups would be subject to the law without qualification. The application of the open meetings law to groups is subject to the qualification; it is just that the courts have not yet clearly articulated the limits of that qualification.
Note that if a number of members of the parent governmental body that would constitute a quorum of that body participate in a meeting of the advisory group when public policy is discussed, whether or not as members of the group, the open meetings law would apply.
Note also that even if a group does not come within the purview of the open meetings law, it may still hold public meetings. This is a recommended as a good business practice.
Facts and Figures for January through June 2014
During the month of June 2014, 82 contacts were made with the Iowa Public Information Board office.
TYPE June 2014 Jan/June 2014 FISCAL YEAR TO DATE
Formal complaints 18 58 101
Formal opinions 0 3 6
Declaratory orders 1 3 5
Informal complaints 7 50 101
Informal requests 56 273 412
Misc. 0 5 18
TOTAL: 82 392 643
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