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Advisory Opinions
Advisory Opinions: Governmental Body


Date: December 15, 2016

Subject: Prairie Meadows and Open Records Laws

Jason Clayworth
The Des Moines Register
Via Email

Tom Flynn
Brick Gentry P.C.
Counsel for Prairie Meadows
Via Email

Dear Mr. Clayworth and Mr. Flynn:

In response to an informal resolution of a complaint, this opinion is being requested from the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.6 and rule 497-1.2. We note at the outset that IPIB's jurisdiction is limited to the application of Iowa Code chapters 21, 22, and 23, and rules in Iowa Administrative Code chapter 497. Advice in a Board opinion constitutes a defense to a subsequent complaint based on the same facts and circumstances.


A complaint was filed by Jason Clayworth concerning whether or not Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, INC. (Prairie Meadows) is subject to the open records laws in Iowa Code chapter 22. Prairie Meadows contends that it is not a "government body" under Iowa Code chapter 22. Both parties entered into an informal resolution agreement that resulted in a mutual request for a Board advisory opinion to answer the legal questions posed herein. There is no disagreement as to the application of the open meetings laws in Iowa Code chapter 21 to Prairie Meadows.

The opinion is based on information that is publicly available from other government bodies.


Is Prairie Meadows a "government body" under Iowa Code chapter 22?

Does Prairie Meadows perform a "government function" as described by the Iowa Supreme Court in Gannon v. Board of Regents, 692 N.W.2d 31 (Iowa 2005)?


The term "government body" is defined in Iowa Code section 22.1(1).  That section, in pertinent part, states:

"The term "government body" means ...nonprofit corporation other than a fair conducting a fair event as provided in chapter 174, whose facilities or indebtedness are supported in whole or in part with property tax revenue and which is licensed to conduct pari-mutuel wagering pursuant to chapter 99D...."

It is clear that Prairie Meadows is a "nonprofit corporation" that is "licensed to conduct pari-mutuel wagering pursuant to chapter 99D."  Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, INC. is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State's office as a domestic non-profit corporation under Iowa Code chapter 504. It was formerly known as the "Racing Association of Central Iowa." The issue then becomes whether or not Prairie Meadows has "facilities or indebtedness" that are "supplied in whole or in part with property tax revenue."

Polk County owns the horse racing and gaming facility. Prairie Meadows leases the facility from Polk County pursuant to a lease agreement that commenced June 1, 2011. This lease agreement requires Prairie Meadows to pay rent in the amount of $1,300,000 to Polk County on a monthly basis. The current lease runs through December 31, 2018, and the lease payments are part of the Polk County Annual Budget Report.  The lease also requires additional payments to be made by Prairie Meadows to Polk County. Finally, the lease agreement speaks to issues involving fire, casualty, and destruction of leased premises as well as insurance and indemnity clauses. As such, Prairie Meadows does not have "facilities" that are "supported in whole or in part with property tax revenue."

Turning to whether Prairie Meadows has "indebtedness" that is "supplied in whole or in part with property tax revenue" it appears that the entirety of the bonds that originally supported Prairie Meadows was repaid in December of 1996. Also, there does not appear to be any funds given by Polk County to Prairie Meadows.  Rather, Prairie Meadows expends several million dollars annually to various government entities and charities. For these reasons, it does not appear that Prairie Meadows has "indebtedness" that is "supported in whole or in part with property tax revenue."

The Gannon case held that a non-profit foundation created for the sole purpose of soliciting and providing funds to Iowa State University was performing a "government function" on behalf of the University due to the level of the "symbiotic relationship" between the two entities.  Therefore, that foundation was subject to the public record laws in Iowa Code chapter 22.

A year after the Gannon decision, the Iowa Supreme Court in Green v. Racing Association of Central Iowa, d/b/a Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, 713 N.W.2d 234 (Iowa 2006) evaluated six factors to determine whether Prairie Meadows and Polk County had the "symbiotic relationship" that would result in Prairie Meadows being deemed a "state actor" and thus an arm of government. The issues in Green presented in the case are similar to the issues raised in the underlying complaint that resulted in this opinion request. The Court ultimately ruled that such a "symbiotic relationship" did not exist.

We agree with the Court that the role of Prairie Meadows with Polk County is much different than the role of the foundation with ISU in Gannon.

For these reasons, the Board is of the opinion that Iowa Code chapter 22 does not apply to Prairie Meadows. The General Assembly placed some specific language in Iowa Code chapter 21 that does make at least some meetings of Prairie Meadows subject to the open meetings laws. (See Iowa Code sections 21.2(1)(f), 21.2(1)(g), and 21.11.)  However, that language does not appear in Iowa Code chapter 22. The General Assembly has had the opportunity to amend the language in Iowa Code chapter 22 over the years in order to ensure that such entities as Prairie Meadows were subject to the requirements of the open meetings law and has not done so.

Suzan Stewart, Chair
Keith Luchtel
Jo Martin
Andrew McKean
Gary Mohr
William Peard
Renee Twedt
Mary Ungs-Sogaard