Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- February 2008
Rules of Conduct for Open Meetings: Tips to Strengthen Citizen Participation
Under Iowa's Open Meetings Law, citizens have the legal right to attend, observe, listen, use cameras, and use recording devices at open sessions of all meetings conducted by a governmental body (Iowa Code Ch. 21.) On the other hand, the Open Meetings law does not give citizens a right to speak. Here are some tips on how citizens and public bodies can work together to keep citizens informed about government business, and help them communicate effectively with public officials.
Public bodies must post agendas in advance at their principal office or the building where the meeting will be held. Many public bodies also take advantage of the electronic age to post agendas on the Internet. We applaud such outreach and encourage public bodies to use the Internet to communicate effectively with the public.
Citizens may request copies of agenda materials before an open meeting. Agenda materials usually are finalized several days before a meeting. The Public Records Law enables citizens to request copies of agenda materials for open sessions in advance of a meeting. Public bodies should consider creating sufficient agenda packages so that copies can be made available to citizens promptly upon request.
Although the Open Meetings Law does not entitle citizens to speak at a meeting, citizens may request the opportunity to address the body at a meeting. (Some agencies also have specific statutes or rules that provide for citizen input.) Public bodies can facilitate citizen participation by allocating time for public comment structured by reasonable rules of conduct, such as advance deadlines for requesting an opportunity to speak, and reasonable time limits for oral comments. We encourage public bodies to facilitate these citizen requests.
Public bodies should look beyond minimum legal requirements to foster meaningful public participation in open meetings. Citizens should offer their views to public officials under reasonable rules of conduct. By working together, public bodies and citizens can improve communication -- and ultimately improve government decision making.
This Advisory was first issued in January 2003. Citizens who have inquiries or complaints may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office - toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)
"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins are designed to give information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws - our "Sunshine Laws." Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney
Iowa Attorney General's Office: Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org. Sunshine Advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens.