Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- September 2002
Public Access to Electronic Meetings
Iowa law requires access to meetings by telephone or fiber optics.
Government bodies may conduct meetings electronically -- by telephone or video-conference, for example -- when an in-person meeting is impossible or impractical. However, using technology to conduct a meeting does not alter the public's basic right of access to observe or listen to a public meeting. Public bodies may not use a teleconference to avoid the requirements of Iowa's Open Meetings Law (Iowa Code Ch. 21.)
Here are some basic principles to assure public access to electronic meetings:
- Electronic meetings are only allowed when an in-person meeting is "impossible" or "impractical." The minutes of the meeting must include a statement explaining why an in-person meeting was impossible or impractical.
- Public bodies must provide the same advance notice and tentative agenda for electronic meetings as for in-person meetings. For purposes of posting notice and a tentative agenda, the "place of the meeting" is where the communication originates or where the public will have access to the conversation.
- The public must have access to all conversations held in open session during the electronic meeting. For instance, some public bodies provide a speaker phone at the location where in-person meetings are commonly held. Other public bodies may permit members of the public to call a special number to listen to a conference call meeting.
- Public bodies may go into closed session during an electronic meeting, IF they meet all requirements for going into closed session. (See July 2002 "Sunshine Advisory.") When an electronic meeting is closed, public access to the conversation is terminated.
Officials and citizens alike should be familiar with the rules for holding electronic meetings in order to assure sustained and meaningful citizen access to public meetings.
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.