If You Steal my Sunshine: Local Government and Iowa's "Sunshine Laws"
With local and national elections approaching once again, it is important to remember Iowa's "Sunshine Laws" (Iowa Code Chapters 21 and 22), which are designed to make all levels of Iowa government as transparent and accountable to the public as possible.
To this end, Iowa Code Chapter 21 deals with "open meetings." It states that "government decisions, as well as those decisions themselves" are to be "easily accessible to the people" and that any construction of Chapter 21 "should be resolved in favor of openness." This means that the public must be given notice of all meetings of the governmental bodies and provided adequate notice of the time, date, and place of the meeting, as well as a tentative agenda within 24 hours of the meeting, absent an emergency. During the meeting, minutes must be kept which show the date, time, place, members present, action taken, and the votes of its members.
Additionally, government bodies may only hold a closed session under certain limited circumstances: reviewing confidential records or investigations, discussing litigation with counsel, or "to evaluate the professional competency of an individual," if that individual requests a closed session. However, minutes and a recording of the closed session must be kept, and no action may be taken by the government body in a closed session.
Iowa Code Chapter 22 addresses open records, which consist of all records, in any form, belonging to a government body or official. This includes e-mail or other electronic communication, among other records. The public has a right to examine, copy and disseminate any public records that do not fall under one of the current exceptions found in Iowa Code 22.7. In general, it is unlawful for any person to prevent access to public records for more than 20 calendar days after a request for the public records has been made, and any attempt to do so can result in both civil and criminal litigation.
In the end, law in this area is always changing, the rules and standards of meetings and disclosures are constantly being clarified. If you have any questions regarding these laws, please contact the governmental body, a private attorney, or the Iowa Public Information Board for more information.