“This chapter seeks to assure, through a requirement of open meetings of governmental bodies, that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people. Ambiguity in the construction or application of this chapter should be resolved in favor of openness.” (Iowa Code section 21.1)
Library board meetings are subject to the Iowa Open Meetings Law. Iowa law assumes that meetings are open. Iowans do not have to make a case to attend a governmental meeting such as a library board meeting. Board members should be familiar with the law and each member should have a copy of the Iowa Open Meetings/Open Records Handbook, available from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council website (http://ifoic.org/open-meetings-open-records-handbook/). Follow the Open Meetings Law to the letter when board business is routine to be prepared when controversial issues surface.
What is the definition of a meeting?
A meeting is defined as “a gathering in person or by electronic means, formal or informal, of a majority of the members of a governmental body [library board] where there is deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the [library board’s] policy-making duties.”
How much notice should be given for the meeting?
At least 24 hours before a meeting, boards are required to post a notice and agenda in a prominent place accessible to the public or in the building in which the meeting is to be held. The notice must include the time, date and place of the meeting and a tentative agenda. The notice does not have to be published in the newspaper. If a news/media agency requests a copy of the notice and agenda, the library board must supply it.
What needs to be on the agenda?
The agenda should include all business to be discussed at the meeting in enough detail to give members of the public a good idea of what topics will be discussed. If an item comes up at the meeting that has not been included on the agenda, action should be deferred to a later meeting. However, the law does allow for items that may come up on an emergency basis.
Even an informal meeting of library trustees would be subject to the open meetings law if there is a majority of the trustees at the gathering and library business is discussed.
What should be included in the minutes?
Minutes of all library board meetings must be kept and include the date, place, the members present, any action taken at the meeting and enough information to allow the public to determine how each member voted. Minutes are subject to the Open Records Law and must be made available to the public if requested.
When may a meeting be closed?
To have a closed session the government body must first meet in open session. This means notice and the agenda, which reasonably apprises the public of what is about to occur, must be posted 24 hours in advance. The government body may go into closed session only with two-thirds majority vote of the entire board or a unanimous vote of all the trustees present. In addition, the specific reason to go into closed session under Iowa Code section 21.5 must be announced in open session. If a closed session is conducted (note: there is no requirement to have a closed session) detailed minutes of the closed session must be kept and the closed session must be audio recorded. No final action may be taken during the closed session.
There are very few reasons listed allowing a closed session and each reason has very specific requirements. The following examples illustrate the need to read and become familiar with the law before going into closed session. Iowa Code section 21.5(1)(i) allows trustees to evaluate the professional competency of an employee or potential employee, but two criteria must be met: the person you are evaluating must request a closed session, and the closed session must be "necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation." Without both requirements a closed session is not allowed by law.
Another example is when the government body is discussing the purchase of real estate. A closed session may be held only if the "premature disclosure could be reasonably expected to increase the price the governmental body would have to pay for that property." This particular section is unique because after the transaction is complete the government body must make available the audio recording and minutes from the closed session.
Get legal advice
The specific requirements of the Open Meetings Law can be confusing. If you are uncertain, seek legal advice before proceeding. Under the Open Meetings Law there are exceptions to the liability of the law if you "reasonably relied upon a decision of a court or a formal opinion of the attorney general or the attorney for the governmental body." You may also contact the Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office at 888-426-6283 or review the Iowa Attorney General Sunshine Advisories located at http://www.iowa.gov/government/ag/sunshine_advisories/index.html.