DES MOINES — What constitutes a 24-hour notice under Iowa’s open-meetings law?
That question became a point of contention Thursday when the Iowa Public Information Board dismissed a complaint brought by Jerry Niichel claiming the city of Sanborn, in northwest Iowa, conducted a meeting in violation of state law last month.
Keith Luchtel, the board’s executive director, recommended the complaint be dismissed on the grounds that a violation did not take place because city officials indicated a notice was posted on a bulletin board at 3 p.m. one day before the City Council conducted a special meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 16.
“There appears to be no question … that the city has met the requirement (of Iowa’s open-meetings law),” Luchtel wrote in his proposed decision.
The board members present at Thursday’s meeting voted to approve the recommendation to dismiss the complaint.
That drew a protest from state Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider, who questioned whether the 24-hour notice provision was met because the room containing the bulletin board was closed for 15 of the 26 hours that the advance notice was posted, failing to meet the law requirement that the notice posting be in a designated place “easily accessible to the public” for at least 24 hours before the meeting.
“Of what use is the 24-hour notice requirement if the notice can be legally placed away from the public’s view during any stretch of that 24-hour period?” Cooperrider asked.
She expressed concern that the board’s decision could lead to confusion and to situations of governmental bodies applying the conclusion in a manner that could be contrary to the intent of the open-meetings law.
“I’m very concerned,” she said. “The board has given its blessing to something I think is wrong.”
However, Luchtel said he did not interpret the state law to mean that the advance public notice should be “continuously available” for 24 hours or available for 24 business hours, which could span nearly three calendar days in some cases where government buildings are open to public access from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I just don’t think it’s practical,” said Luchtel, who noted he had not heard the 24-hour notice requirement applied that way before and thought it would be an issue the Legislature would have to address if a clarification is needed.