Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- July 2006
Can One Member of a Governmental Body Participate in a Meeting Electronically?
Iowa's Open Meetings Law allows for individual electronic participation.
Iowa's Open Meetings Law authorizes governmental bodies to conduct "electronic meetings" of the full body, but only if meeting in person is "impossible or impractical," and only if the public has access to hear the meeting. (Iowa Code sec. 21.8 - See Sunshine Advisory September 2002.) What if only one member of the body wants to participate electronically? Is that permissible?
A single member may participate electronically. The statute governing "electronic meetings" does not apply when less than a quorum participates electronically, but nothing in the law prohibits a single member from participating this way. The governmental body should assure that any member participating electronically is audible and is accountable to the public for all discussion and votes.
When an individual member of a governmental body seeks to participate in a meeting electronically, the following points should be considered:
- Parliamentary procedure: The parliamentary rules of the governmental body should be consulted to determine if they permit individual members to participate electronically.
- Discussion: Any member participating electronically should be connected by speaker phone or other device, so that the public can hear any discussion by that member. If the session is closed under Iowa Code section 21.5, the tape recording of the closed session must pick up the discussion by any member who is participating electronically. Iowa Code sec. 21.5(4).
- Voting and minutes: The vote of any member participating electronically must be made public at the open session, and the minutes must include information sufficient to indicate the vote of each member participating electronically. Iowa Code sec. 21.3. (The vote of the member should be audible to the public through a speaker connection.)
In summary: Electronic participation of an individual member does not violate the Open Meetings Law, but the member remains accountable for all discussion and votes.
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.