Chapter 21 Official Meetings Open to the Public

Chapters 21 and 22 of the Iowa Code — the open meetings and records or “sunshine” laws — attempt to ensure that Iowa government at all levels is as transparent and accountable to the public as possible.

The first sentence of Chapter 21 says explicitly that the goal of the law is to guarantee, through open meetings of governmental bodies, “that the basis and rationale of government decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people.” The law also says that any ambiguity should be settled in favor of openness.

In other words, there is a legal presumption that meetings of government bodies should be open to the public except in limited circumstances, spelled out in Ch. 21.5. Even then, the law says that “nothing in this section requires a governmental body to hold a closed session.”

Governmental bodies are required to give adequate notice of the time, date and place of a meeting, and post a tentative agenda (Ch. 21.4). They must keep minutes of their meetings (Ch. 21.3), which then become public records. Nothing should be discussed at a meeting that wasn’t on the agenda, unless there is an emergency item that can’t be deferred for 24 hours.

A governmental body that wishes to hold a closed meeting must follow certain procedures, spelled out in Ch. 21.5, including taking a public vote and citing which exception allows closure. Discussion in closed meetings is limited to the reason why the meeting was closed, and the governmental body must go back into open session to take any final action.

Government bodies are not required to allow public comment at open meetings, though many do, and they are allowed to enforce reasonable rules to ensure meetings are orderly. Members of the public are allowed to use cameras and recording devices at open meetings, so long as they aren’t disruptive.

Chapter 21 Official Meetings Open to the Public - PDF

Chapter 21 Q&A/Frequently Asked Questions