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Iowa opening meeting law extends to public officials' proxies

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Rejecting a practice commonly used by some government boards, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that private meetings can be illegal even when a majority of members aren't physically present.For years, many members of county ...

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Rejecting a practice commonly used by some government boards, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that private meetings can be illegal even when a majority of members aren’t physically present.
For years, many members of county boards, city councils and school boards have met privately with staff to deliberate on controversial matters outside of public view. As long as a quorum isn’t present, they contend that the requirements to notify the public in advance and have an open meeting don’t apply. Often, the closed-door decisions are formally adopted later during brief public meetings with little discussion or input.
In a first-of-its-kind ruling in Iowa, the court decided 4-3 that those private meetings are illegal if the board or council members use staff as conduits to share their views and negotiate policies. Any meeting called to discuss public policy in which a majority of a body’s members are present “by virtue of an agent or proxy” - such as a staff member representing their views - is subject to the law’s requirement of an open meeting, the court ruled.

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