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Sunshine Advisory Bulletin

A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- July 2004

Closed-Session Agendas:

Is an agenda required for a closed session?

Meeting agendas posted in advance are the public's invitation to watch government in action. The public would have no way to decide whether to attend a meeting in the absence of an advance, descriptive agenda that lists the topics to be discussed in open session. But how does the agenda requirement apply to closed sessions, when the public cannot attend? Does the advance agenda really need to describe the topics to be discussed in closed session? If the public cannot attend a closed session, what is the point of the agenda?

Iowa law does not exempt a governmental body from agenda requirements for closed sessions. Posting agendas for closed sessions gives the public an opportunity to:

  • Check on why the session is closed. Only a few topics can justify a closed session. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(1)(a-k). The public has an interest in examining the agenda to be sure that the reason for closing the session is among the reasons authorized by law.
  • Watch for the vote to close a session. Governmental bodies cannot go into closed session without an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of the body, or an affirmative vote of all members present at the meeting. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(1). The public is entitled to hold accountable those members who vote to close a session and assess whether they have complied with the law.
  • Watch for final action in open session. Even when a closed session is authorized by law, any final action must be taken in open session in full view of the public. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(3). The public needs to know what topic is under consideration in closed session in order to decide whether to remain at the meeting site and await a possible vote of the governmental body as the "final action" on that topic.

In sum, closed session topics must be disclosed on the agenda in advance to give the public an opportunity to assess the reason for a closed session, hold accountable the members who vote to close a session, and decide whether to await a vote as final action.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office -- toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)

"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins provide information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws -- our "Sunshine Laws." The bulletins are a resource for public officials and citizens. 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.