June 16, 2011

On May 12, 2011, Governor Branstad signed SF 289, an act relating to open records and public meetings. It is effective immediately. Several significant changes include:  

Public Notice -- Iowa Code section 21.4 now applies the notice requirement to reconvened meetings of the governmental body unless the meeting was reconvened within four hours of the start of its recess where the announcement of the time, date, and place of the reconvened meeting was made at the original meeting in open session and recorded in the minutes of the meeting and there was no change in the agenda. The notice requirement does not apply to a meeting held by a formally constituted subunit of a parent governmental body. Also, township trustees are no longer exempt from the notice-of-meeting requirements.
Closed Session to Discuss Purchase or Sale of Particular Real Estate -- Iowa Code section 21.5(1)(j) now allows closed-session meetings when discussing the sale of particular real estate where premature disclosure could be reasonably expected to reduce the price the governmental body would receive for that property.
Appraisal Information -- Iowa Code section 22.7(7) now provides that appraisals or appraisal information concerning the sale or purchase of real or personal property for public purposes shall be confidential prior to the execution of any contract for such sale or the submission of the appraisal to the property owner or other interest holders. The confidentiality required can be overridden if ordered by a court, by the lawful custodian of the records, or by another person duly authorized to release such information.
Personal Information -- Iowa Code section 22.7(11) now provides that personal information in confidential personnel files of government officials, officers, and employees of government bodies remains confidential, except the following information relating to such individuals contained in personnel records shall be public records and must be produced upon request:
  • Name and compensation of the individual;
  • The dates the individual was employed by the governmental body;
  • The positions the individual holds or has held with the governmental body;
  • The educational institutions attended by the individual, including any diplomas and degrees earned, and the names of the individual's previous employers, dates of that employment and position held; and
  • The fact that the individual was discharged as the result of a final disciplinary action upon the exhaustion of all applicable contractual, legal, and statutory remedies.
    Personal information in confidential personnel records of government bodies relating to student employees shall only be released if allowed under federal regulations enacted pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g.
Settlements -- Government Bodies -- Section 22.13 has been completely rewritten and now provides that the settlement agreement and any required summary of a settlement shall be a public record. The governmental body shall prepare a brief summary of the resolution of the dispute upon request, but is not required to prepare the summary of the terms of the settlement if the settlement agreement includes the information required to be included in the summary.
Penalty for Violating Open Meetings Law -- Upon a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a governmental body has violated any provision of Iowa Code Chapter 21, a court shall assess to each member of the governmental body who participated in its violation damages in the amount of not more than $500 and not less than $100. Knowing participation in such violations increases the potential liability to a minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $2,500. A person found to have violated the Open Meetings Law will not be assessed damages if that person reasonably relied upon a formal written opinion of the attorney general or the attorney for the government body, or a formal oral opinion, memorialized in the minutes of the meeting at which a formal oral opinion was given, or an advisory written opinion of the attorney general or the attorney for the government body.
This is a summary of the recent changes in Iowa Code Chapters 21 and 22. Specific questions should be addressed to counsel. If there are issues you wish to discuss or have clarified, please do not hesitate to contact the member of the Ahlers & Cooney Public Finance & Law Practice Group with whom you normally work. 

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Wainwright, James


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